The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, now in its fifth decade, is a national platform for modern art and artists and a leading voice for contemporary culture. It is open to everyone and is situated on the National Mall in the centre of Washington, DC. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden aim to communicate the transforming power of modern and contemporary art by fostering meaningful, intimate encounters where art, artists, audiences, and ideas collide. It is one of the most popular modern art museums in the US. It creates an environment where people can interact with the most significant artists of the twenty-first century through ground-breaking exhibitions, events, research, and acquisitions. 

History | Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Congress founded the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to present current art and artists. Since it first opened its doors in 1974, it has worked to sustain this objective by educating as many people as possible about the transformational potential of modern and contemporary art. It now serves as a leading voice for innovative artists whose works question the current political and cultural climate and the mere process of creating art.

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hirshhorn history_©Wikimedia Commons

Design Concept 

Gordon Bunshaft envisioned the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as “a large piece of functional sculpture” among the National Mall’s shrine-like buildings. The raised, hollow-centred cylinder, essentially a gallery for paintings, floats above roughly four acres of sculpture-friendly grounds.

Curved galleries enable visitors to see more artwork. A wall of windows focusing on the fountain and a recessed garden offers peace and brightens the interior. The drum-shaped Hirshhorn is striking compared to its neighbours (Mall constructions typically consist of brick Victorian fantasies, modernist block buildings, or neoclassical temples), much like the round Guggenheim Museum in New York. Still, symmetry and frontality preserve the official Washington, DC, architectural mode.

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Exterior of the Hirshhorn Museum_©Postdlf

Sculpture Garden

The Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden and Plaza, which features more than thirty works of art on exhibit all year long, provides visitors with a tranquil retreat right in the middle of the nation’s capital. Sculptures were and still are an essential part of the Museum’s identity, making up close to a fourth of Joseph Hirshhorn’s original gift. The garden, which debuted alongside the Museum in 1974, offers the ideal setting for a collection of modern sculptures once hailed as “without parallel in the world.” In addition to the Sculpture Garden’s outdoor galleries, there is plenty of room to display more modern artwork on the Plaza surrounding the Museum building. The two locations work together to create a beautiful environment for some of the Museum’s most beloved pieces. 

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Sculpture garden_©Gryffindor

Reflecting Pool | Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

The intricate terrain and 506 x 60-foot rectangular reflecting pool are key components of the Sculpture Garden’s strict composition and modern artwork. It presents the chance for the Sculpture Garden to act as a gathering place once more and serve as an inspiration. It dominates the space, surrounded by a pebble-covered walkway. The reflecting pool in Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is minimalist, with a few trees, bushes, or flowers. 

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Reflecting pool and concrete partition wall, Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden_©Wikimedia Commons

Architecture features 

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is housed in a cylinder with an 82-foot height and a 231-foot diameter. The polished, white Italian marble used to cover the Hirshhorn Museum’s concrete walls reflects. Light in intriguing ways. The museum is elevated, sitting atop four large pillars thus leaving the large plaza open for displaying sculptures and visitor enjoyment. The placed circular fountain is one of the Hirshhorn Museum’s signature elements. 

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Central courtyard and fountain_©Lars Larsen

The building has just one window, a large picture window that overlooks the National Mall. Due to the circular design of the Hirshhorn Museum, an inner courtyard has been created, which is open to the public and used for outdoor sculptures and events. The Sky-space of the Hirshhorn Museum, also known as “The Celestial Vault,” is a spherical space with a retractable ceiling that provides sky views. The room’s central oculus offers guests a fresh and distinctive perspective on the sky. The interior spaces of the Hirshhorn Museum are intended to provide visitors with an immersive experience. Curved walls and the spiralling arrangement of the galleries around the central courtyard give the space a sense of movement and flow.

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inner gallery_©Postdlf
View from within the central courtyard_©Postdlf

Technical Information | Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden 

The building is 231 feet long, with an interior court measuring 115 feet and a fountain standing at 60 feet. The building and walls are surfaced with a precast concrete aggregate of “Swenson” pink granite. The 82-foot-tall building is lifted 14 feet on four enormous, sculptural piers.

A lower-level auditorium with 274 seats; 60,000 square feet of exhibition space on three floors; 197,000 square feet of total exhibition space; 2.7 acres surrounding and under the museum building; a 1.3-acre sculpture garden across Jefferson Drive that is submerged 6-14 feet below street level and has ramps for accessibility. The lower level contains exhibition space, storage, workshops, and offices. The fourth story contains offices and storage. The second and third floors galleries have 15-foot-high walls and exposed 3-foot-deep coffered ceilings.

Overall, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s design is a monument to modernist architecture’s ability to produce daring and Avant-Garde places that subvert conventional ideas of form and function.

East Gallery – Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden_©Wikimedia Commons


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  • Institution, S. (n.d.). Architectural History of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1969. [online] Smithsonian Institution. Available at: [Accessed 28 Apr. 2023].
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden | Smithsonian. (n.d.). The Architect. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Apr. 2023].
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Sculpture Garden Revitalization. (n.d.). Available at: [Accessed 28 Apr. 2023].
  • Wikipedia. (2023). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Apr. 2023].

Preksha is an endeavoring architecture student who relishes traveling and reading. With a desire to create engaging and thought-provoking content, she is committed to rummaging through new ideas in architecture and design, sharing them with a broader audience, and inspiring positive change through her writing.