Orchids Belong in this Museum Courtyard

Orchids Belong in this Museum Courtyard

This week I got to see the 28th Annual Orchid Exhibition by Smithsonian Gardens and the U.S. Botanic Garden, and since I’m no orchid expert (understatement alert), can I just rave about the setting? Because the Kogod Courtyard of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery is the perfect place to show off 350 live orchids. (They’re on view through April 28. More info here.)

The Courtyard

I’ve seen the show in the lobby of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Museum – a meh location – and boy what a difference it makes to see them here, in my favorite indoor location in town. 

I’ve been around DC long enough to remember when this courtyard was open-air and a nice place to have lunch, weather-permitting, but seldom used. That’s why the decision was made to enclose it, with a design by the famous British architect Norman Foster.  The resulting curved, multi-faceted glass roof knocks your socks off, especially on a sunny day. (And it’s not even one of Foster’s 25 most famous works.) The Kogod Courtyard opened in 2007, named after the principal donor.

The museum describes it as “a distinctive, contemporary accent to the museums’ Greek Revival building. The wavy glass-and-steel roof that appears to float over the 28,000-square-foot courtyard lets in natural light but protects visitors from the elements.”

Foster was “assisted by internationally acclaimed landscape designer Kathryn Gustafson of Seattle-based Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. in the creation of the courtyard’s interior design, which includes plantings in white marble containers on a black granite floor. The landscaping includes ficus and black olive trees as well as a variety of shrubs and ferns. Gustafson’s plan features four water scrims, each one-quarter inch deep.”

You can see the distinctive scrims in the photo above but even better in this link.  For safety reasons, it’s turned off for crowded events.

Great view of the ceiling’s curves here.

 

My favorite part of the courtyard? The shadows cast on the courtyard by the roof on a sunny day – or even better, with passing clouds.

Sculpture, Too

But back to the orchid show, where the plants are joined by “newly commissioned and loaned works by contemporary multimedia artist Phaan Hown to help audiences visualize the future of orchids and be inspired to take action toward a sustainable future… She borrowed patterns of orchids and their habitats to craft adapted speculative landscapes that inspire us all to take action towards a sustainable future.” More info about the sculptures here.

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And One Gratuitous Outdoor Shot

Though DC’s (overexposed?) cherry blossoms weren’t at their peak yet, its magnolia blooms were plenty peaked for the hoards of photographers and tourists I saw on my visit.  Especially popular are views like this one through the Smithsonian’s Moongate.

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