Ellipsis / Washington, DC
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum Renovation Invited Competition
2013 / 7,000 sq. ft. 

Ellipsis reinvents the Grand Salon of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery as an engaging public space, diminishing the boundaries between the city and the museum. The contemporary renovation has been carefully designed to coexist with, rather than replace, the historic structure, creating a dialogue between past and present. 

A plane of polished steel hovers above the main stairs, producing mirror images of the activity below and generating new, unexpected views into the Salon. Inside the Salon, two elliptical voids, connected by a screen of digitally-manufactured ceramic panels, form a new ceiling, suspended above the public. The original structure remains visible though this twisting screen, torqueing one’s perception of the historic space. The Grand Salon is transformed into an informal collective space, encouraging visitors to rest, socialize and contemplate.

Although the Grand Salon is fully interior and its skylight was covered up long ago, Ellipsis imparts the space with an interior atmosphere that connects with the outdoors. LED lighting, radiating from the surface of the artificial skylight and reflecting off the ceramic curves, evokes the outdoor weather through the light of the daily sky. This light gradually transitions color and intensity — from a warm morning glow, which grows brighter in the afternoon, to a cool shade of indigo at dusk — producing new experiences upon each visit.

Project Team: Phu Hoang, Rachely Rotem, Amanda Morgan, Dorimar del Rio Project Credits: L’Observatoire (Lighting Design)

Copyright 2017 by MODU Architecture, PLLC