Four big museums in two days. Whoo! A holiday trip with my family to Washington, D.C., had me thinking about how museums are sometimes not very welcoming places. A museum’s main reason for existing is to share collections with visitors, right? But cavernous entrances, long lines and tired staffers can make visitors feel like running away.
Not so at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building.
I never experience a flight instinct under that gorgeous geometric skylight. On this recent visit, I stood at the balcony for a long time, gazing at the huge Calder mobile.
When Chinese-born architect I.M. Pei designed the modern East Building he had to cope with an irregular site shaped like a trapezoid. According to the museum’s website, he said, “I sketched a trapezoid on the back of an envelope. I drew a diagonal line across the trapezoid and produced two triangles. That was the beginning.” You can take a virtual tour of the East Building here.
Rafael Viñoly also created a dramatic interior space when he designed the Nasher Museum.
In his “paper napkin” sketch, Viñoly drew five boxes in an irregular pentagon shape around a central courtyard. The glass-and-steel skylight soars 40 feet overhead — a happy surprise for visitors because the cathedral-like great hall is not visible from the street.
Hmm, maybe great architecture has something to do with making people feel welcome.
BOTTOM IMAGE: © 2005 Brad Feinknopf