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8.8-acre trapezoidal site adjacent to the existing National Gallery at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Washington Mall

Index to Projects in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.

Gross Area
604,000 s/f, including 54,000 s/f underground link to existing museum

Trustees of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Time Frame
Planning: 5/68–
Construction: 5/71–
Completion: 6/78

National Gallery of Art,
East Building

Washington, D.C.
Completed 1978


Lead Designers:



I. M. Pei
Leonard Jacobson


Museum Expansion Building and Visual Arts Study Center

Click on image to enlarge

On one of the most sensitive sites in the United States, on the Mall at the foot of the Capitol, the client requested an expansion facility to complement the existing National Gallery. Programmatically two different buildings were required: a museum to house large travelling exhibitions and to provide the infrastructure and ceremonial spaces lacking in the early twentieth-century building, and also a separate study-center / office facility . In solution, the trapezoidal site was sliced into two triangles — one for each function  — with a triangular atrium unifying the whole. In plan, section and elevation, the interlocking volumes merge inseparably in a spatial dialogue of rigorous geometry, technical innovation and exacting craftsmanship.

The skylit atrium at the heart of the East Wing is a hub of circulation and orientation. Organized around it are three flexible towers designed to permit the exhibition of one large or multiple small shows with the viewing intimacy of a small house museum. The new and old buildings are functionally united into an integrated whole by an underground  tunnel animated by prismatic skylights, a chadar waterwall, and by a wide range of dining and other services.

Adjacent to the public museum is the integral, although more private, Study Center, which, housed in a smaller triangle, provides a light-filled reading room and library stacks, as well as offices for scholars, curators and administrators.


Major Components

16,000 s/f skylit atrium; 62,000 s/f exhibition space; 2 auditoria; varied dining; bookstore; technical support; Visual Arts Study Center with 5-story skylit reading room, 6 levels library stacks, offices and support spaces, academic offices; 154,000 s/f subterranean link to existing museum; landscaped plaza with tetrahedral skylights and chadar waterwall; specially commissioned monumental art; renovations to original museum.




American Institute of Architects:
Twenty Five Year Award



American Institute of Architects, College of Fellows:
One of America's Ten Best Buildings



American Institute of Architects:
National Honor Award



Building Stone Institute: Annual Tucker Award


I. M. Pei & Partners services

Master Planning; Complete Architectural Services; Interior Design



Weiskopf & Pickworth, New York, NY


Mechanical / Electrical

Syska & Hennessy, New York, NY



Office of Dan Kiley, Charlotte, VT  



Malcolm Rice, Concord, TN



Photo credits

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