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Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard
Designed by Norman Foster


Conde Nast Traveler named the Kogod Courtyard as one of seven architectural wonders


The Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, a signature element of the renovated Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, it is a part of the building houses the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The enclosed courtyard with its elegant glass canopy designed by world–renowned architects Foster + Partners provides a distinctive, contemporary accent to the museums' Greek Revival building. Foster + Partners was assisted by internationally acclaimed landscape designer Kathryn Gustafson of Seattle–based Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. in the creation of the courtyard's interior design, with a variety of trees and plantings, as well as a unique water feature. The courtyard is named for major donors Robert and Arlene Kogod, Washington philanthropists and art collectors.

Foster + Partners worked with the Smithsonian to create an innovative enclosure for the 28,000–square–foot space at the center of the building that was sensitive to the historic structure and yet added a modern element to the building. The light–filled Kogod Courtyard is a major gathering place in the nation's capital. It is a welcoming space downtown, as well as a public venue for the museums' performances, lectures and special events. Free public wireless Internet access (Wi–Fi) is available in the courtyard. The Courtyard Cafè offers casual dining during public museum hours (11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.).

In 2004, following an international competition, the Smithsonian announced that a panel of jurors had selected the designs of London–based architects Foster + Partners. Foster + Partners has designed numerous innovative and award–winning projects, such as the Great Court at the British Museum in London and the Reichstag, the New German Parliament in Berlin. The firm's most recent project in the United States is the Hearst Tower in New York City.

The roof is a wavy glass–and–steel structure that appears to float over the courtyard, letting in natural light but protecting visitors from the elements. The double–glazed glass panels are set in a grid completely supported by eight aluminum–clad columns located around the perimeter of the courtyard so that the weight of the roof does not affect the National Historic Landmark building.

The courtyard, which can be viewed from the museums' galleries, accommodates an array of activities, including art–making programs, children's activities, concerts and performances.


The total cost of renovation for the Donald W. Reynolds Center is $283 million. Federal funds—$166 million—paid for the infrastructure work and historic preservation of the building. Private support totaled $117 million, which includes $63 million for the courtyard enclosure and its interior design ($25 million from Robert and Arlene Kogod and $38 million from private donors).

Renovation of the Building

The Smithsonian began an extensive renovation of the museums' building in 2001, following the replacement of the roof in 1999. The renovation of the structure, known to historians as the Patent Office Building, included replacing all key mechanical systems (heating, ventilation, air conditioning); replacing more than 550 windows with an ultraviolet light filter to protect artworks from damaging sunlight and a hand–blown exterior layer that looks like historic glass; restoring original marble floor pavers and matching others with historically accurate reproductions; installing new fire and security systems; and replacing elevators and electrical systems throughout the entire building.

The scope of the renovation project expanded dramatically in 2002, when the Smithsonian began to consider enclosing the outdoor courtyard. From 1968, when the Smithsonian opened its two museums in the National Historic Landmark building, until it closed for renovations in 2000, the courtyard was a grassy outdoor space with paths leading into the museums, trees, and tables and chairs, where visitors relaxed and enjoyed the quiet of a city space enclosed on all four sides. Now, with the glass canopy allowing natural light, the courtyard can be used year–round in all kinds of weather, enabling the public more opportunities to visit and enjoy the space. The courtyard landscaping enhances the outdoor feeling with mature trees, plantings and a water feature along the floor. The courtyard is essentially an elaborate rooftop garden; below it is the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium.

Plans for enclosing the courtyard began in 2002, and the following year, the Institution received approval from Congress (August 2003) for the privately funded enhancement of the building. Proposals were sought for a design that would not affect the structure or integrity of the National Historic Landmark building. Foster + Partners was selected, and approvals from the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts were obtained.

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