Order a scoop (or two) of Dolcezza's handcrafted and undeniably delicious gelato while you're there. 

Elizabeth Preske
February 23, 2018

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, a Smithsonian institution of modern and contemporary art, has renovated its lobby for the first time in its 42-year history, and starting Friday you can walk through its reconfigured entrance and see it for yourself.

Designed by acclaimed Japanese photographer, artist, and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto, the conceptually unique lobby is also home to the National Mall's first and only local café, D.C.'s award-winning Dolcezza Coffee & Gelato.

The museum's decision to revamp architect Gordon Bunshaft's original design, in addition to its partnership with Dolcezza, is part of an initiative to “encourage creativity and foster greater connections between visitors and the artists of the time,” according to a statement.

Sugimoto and his Tokyo-based architectural firm New Material Research Laboratory envisioned a cohesive space that reflects the building and its collection, and also serves to function as “sculpture, furniture and conceptual art.”

The lobby features an array of furnishings designed and made by Sugimoto: a 20-foot metal coffee bar inspired by fireproofing techniques used in 1930s Tokyo; chairs that reflect the natural and manmade in their helicoid shape; and brushed-brass benches with legs made from the same optical glass used in camera lenses, a tribute to Sugimato's work as a photographer. Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson also contributed to the design by creating a prismatic light sculpture to hang from the ceiling.

The inspiration behind Sugimoto's concept can be seen in the two glass-top tables, hewn from a 700-year-old Japanese nutmeg tree. In a statement, Sugimoto explained: “When I first discovered this enormous, ancient Japanese nutmeg tree, I became fascinated by the roots – how they fanned out to form a large circle. Thus, I found it fitting to place one of nature's circles inside this manufactured one so that we might compare the two: notional shapes and natural shapes.”

If you are wondering whether any traces of Bunshaft's vision and design can still be found, the answer is yes. According to Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu, Sugimoto's “unique aesthetic brings a renewed sense of sophistication and elegance to the lobby while at the same time honoring Gordon Bunshaft's original intentions.” Bunshaft's terrazzo floor, coffered ceiling, and aggregate walls have been preserved, and the new brushed-brass and granite welcome desks emulate the museum's original brass entryways.

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