Shortlist Designs Shared for $130M Bezos Center


Plans for the $130 million Bezos Learning Center at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C have taken another step forward with the release of five design proposals for the project.

The aesthetic concepts were shared by five anonymous firms on the museum’s website at the beginning of the month, where they were open to public comment until Sept. 19.

“The Smithsonian plays a vital role in igniting the imaginations of our future builders and dreamers,” Jeff Bezos, Founder and Executive Chair of Amazon, and Founder of aerospace and space flight company Blue Origins, said in a previous statement regarding the project.

“Every child is born with great potential, and it's inspiration that unlocks that potential. My love affair with science, invention and space did that for me, and I hope this gift does that for others.”

Some Background

In July 2021, the Smithsonian announced that it was the recipient of a $200 million donation from Bezos—the largest donation the Institution has received since James Smithson’s founding gift in 1846.

“Since its inception, the Smithsonian has benefited from both federal funding and the generosity of visionary donors,” said Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch. “Almost 175 years ago, Mr. Smithson’s inaugural gift laid the groundwork for this innovative approach, bringing together private philanthropy and public funding.

“Today, as we emerge from a pivotal moment in history, Jeff’s donation builds on that original tradition and will help us reimagine and transform the Smithsonian. This historic gift will help the Smithsonian achieve its goal of reaching every classroom in America by creating a world-class learning center with access and inspiration at its heart. We are grateful to Jeff for his generosity and for his passion and commitment to education, innovation and technology. This donation will fuel our nation’s future leaders and innovators.”

According to a press release at the time, Bezos has a long history of supporting the Smithsonian and has been a founding donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He has also contributed to the National Air and Space Museum.

In 2016, Bezos was awarded a Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Technology. That same year, he was a featured speaker at the National Air and Space Museum for the John H. Glenn Lecture in Space History.

The following year, his portrait was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and in 2019, Bezos was honored during the National Portrait Gallery’s American Portrait Gala with the Portrait of a Nation Prize.

In accepting Bezos’ gift, Smithsonian Board of Regents Chair Steve Case, the Chairman and CEO of Revolution and founder of America Online, said, “Jeff’s early curiosity about space exploration helped inspire him to think big and act boldly, and as a result he has played a defining role in the expansion of the internet. We’re delighted that Jeff is making this commitment to help us extend the Smithsonian’s reach and impact, as we seek to inspire the next generation of scientists, astronauts, engineers, educators and entrepreneurs.”

Of the $200 million received, the Smithsonian shared that $70 million would be utilized to support the renovation of the National Air and Space Museum, while the remaining $130 million would launch a new education center at the museum, dubbed the Bezos Learning Center in honor of Bezos’ donation.

The Smithsonian went on to describe the education center, which is planned to be housed in a new facility constructed on the east side of the museum’s plaza and in conjunction with the second half of the museum’s ongoing revitalization.

Once completed, the center intends to feature programs and activities that inspire students to pursue innovation and explore careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) fields.

The educational center is also meant to better help teachers utilize the Smithsonian’s collections.

Connecting to all the Smithsonian museums, the latest education center will coordinate STEAM-related collections and experts across the Institution and promoting inquiry-based learning in visitors of all ages, with a focus on under-resourced communities. It also plans to activate programming through innovative community partnerships and will help enable a technological transformation of the museum’s galleries and public spaces, including the creation of new interactive experiences to inspire visitors, students, teachers and families.

“At this moment, the first human to set foot on Mars might be in elementary school,” said Ellen Stofan, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Science and Research and former director of the National Air and Space Museum.

“As the largest and most visited aerospace museum in the world, the museum wants to spark that passion and enrich the imagination and ingenuity of every student who visits the Smithsonian. For many years, Jeff has been an avid supporter of the Smithsonian and the museum’s mission to ‘ignite tomorrow.’ With this gift, we will be able to continue our transformation and further expand the National Air and Space Museum’s ability to reveal the possibilities of space exploration.”

The Designs

Although the architectural firms have been left unnamed, reports have indicated several basic design features intended for the new Bezos Learning Center. While each potential designer has their own take on the facility, the project plans envision that the new facility will span three floors and encompass 50,000 square feet.

Inside, the learning center will include exhibition spaces, a restaurant, a rooftop terrace and an observatory.

Of the designs submitted for the project, it is clear that some nod to aeronautics and space exploration. In one rendering, viewers can witness a honeycomb-inspired structure with elements resembling the International Space Station and James Webb Telescope.

In other renderings, the facility features spiraling patterns, like those observed in the Milky Way. Another design features rocket-ship like structures and a bulbous dome. To view the design concepts, click here. According to reports, the museum is planning to announce a winning firm in the coming months.

A final design for the project is slated to be submitted for approval in 2023 with a target completion date sometime in 2026, which would coincide with the museum’s 50th anniversary.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architecture; Color + Design; Color + Design; Commercial / Architectural; Design; Design - Commercial; Design build; Designers; Funding; Museums; Museums; NA; North America; Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Upcoming projects

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