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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Kogod Courtyard: Art Surrounded by Art

Over the past year, I've had the opportunity to scout out many different types of architecture overseas, but my latest adventure brought me back to a place I am no stranger to and has become a common stop whenever I end up in the Washington DC area. Sheltered within the confides of the National Portrait Gallery in Chinatown, The Kogod Courtyard offers a pace to elude the muggy temperature, occasional rainstorm, or the lively DC streets. The main design consideration of a covered space may be simple, but Norman Foster's idea for a envelope is far from it. Simliar in structure to that of his British Museum addition, an aluminum truss system houses glass panels to create an enclosed space, but like a master conductor, Foster guides the truss system through a series of crescendos and diminuendos, giving movement to the space.


Movement through roof


You begin to wonder how many people pass through the gallery, on their tour of Smithsonian Museums, in search of classical artistry only to miss this center which offers up this piece of modern art. It wouldn't be that hard to do, as the information desks, in all their centrally placed glory tend to welcome visitors by pushing them to the side wings, or the corresponding stone staircases on either side of the door. It's been awhile since I first walked into the space, but I'm still taken by it's large but welcoming scale. It's big, but no where close to overpowering, as the light structure keeps the space open and the marble planters give life to the olive trees and other greenery.


Roof swelling before joining back to the building


The courtyard  is what a public space should be: open, inviting, full of life and lets you experience it differently from unique perspectives. Of course you can always sit at one of the many tables that occupy the area, but one of my favorite ways to utilize the space is laying on the smooth marble planters, cool to the touch, and staring up at the clouds passing over these undulating aluminum supports. The sides of these planters were intentionally oversized allowing them to be inviting instead of just another boarder around some greenery. On a hot day, it's not uncommon to see more people resting here, instead of one of the many chairs, looking up through the branches of the olive trees as their leaves sway with the ventilation of the building. These trees keep the space feeling fresh and allow contrast between the industrialized columns, ultimately creating a space in-between.

Modern meets Organic


Sure, you could pick up a flyer at the information desk and read about the recycled denim used to insulate the trusses, or have one of the people at the desk explain to you how the reflecting pools were removed due to numerous leaks, but this is a space that yearns to be experienced and not told. Good architecture can tell you story...and the Kogod Courtyard does so by using the shadows moving across the walls, the resident trees growing even closer to the limit and rewarding the average passerby that takes the time to stop and look up.


Through the Trees
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