A Dazzling Show of Stewardship, Preservation, and Accessibility

Lorynn Holloway
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Constitution Hall Project Recognized with Significant Design Award

When it became clear that the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) headquarters located in Washington, D.C. was in need of a major transformation to ensure its future, specifically that of Constitution Hall, they turned to Quinn Evans to renovate and reposition the iconic space. With DAR’s three founding tenets in mind: historic preservation, education, and patriotism, we completed a strategic restoration project that respected the historic fabric of the space through sustainable stewardship and optimized its safety, capabilities, and accessibility.

Designed by John Russell Pope in 1929, Constitution Hall is a grand auditorium that hosts the organization’s annual Continental Congress as well as major touring acts from around the world and is also recognized as a National Historic Landmark. With 3,702 seats, Constitution Hall was and remains the largest concert hall in Washington, D.C. Over time, the venue became a source of income for the DAR to sustain the organization, with the ability to accommodate virtually any type of performance. Quinn Evans’ renovation renewed the Hall back to its original appearance, reigniting its symbolic significance to the DAR members while providing a robust and flexible venue complete with heavy-duty, safety-centered, and flexible rigging and infrastructure for a variety of performances and events.

Original project images from 1930 were used to inform the restoration design that balances the history of the space with its future. Katie Irwin, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP BD+C, and Senior Associate at Quinn Evans specializes in historic interiors, and her expert eye was integral to the sensitive transformation of the Hall and its intricate interior finishes. “The guiding principle of this entire project has been historic preservation,” said Denise VanBuren, former President General of the DAR. “That is, of course, one of our primary mission areas in the Daughters of the American Revolution. We have worked to the very best of our ability to replicate the look and feel of DAR Constitution Hall as it was when John Russell Pope designed it in 1929.” Several elements, including the original canvas and state murals, scenic murals on the back of the stage, and custom fabrics used for carpeting and auditorium seating required close attention to detail for their restoration resulting in an elevated level of historic preservation.

One of the most exciting additions of the restoration was the installation of 972 new light panels that mimic the original view of daylight and the evening sky through a detailed glass laylight ceiling. Visitors can now get a twinkling view of starlight during events held at any time within Constitution Hall, an optimized feature that enhances the overall visitor experience. Not only does the laylight re-energize the space, but each laylight panel is also fully removable and integrated into the new safety access grids in the attic so event staff can safely rig through any location in the ceiling. Understanding the impact this could have on the environment, the design team went above and beyond to ensure the energy consumption was minimized with the replication of the original laylight auditorium.

This dramatic restoration and repositioning of Constitution Hall were made possible by literally thousands of individuals who came together to fulfill DAR’s vision for the venue – including the DAR’s immense fundraising efforts as well as the designers and contractors who documented and executed the work. Everything came together in what judges on the Northern Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Northern Virginia) 2022 Design Awards panel referred to as a restoration project that, “was clearly lovingly done.” The Quinn Evans Constitution Hall project team was honored to receive the Design Award of Excellence in the Historical Category. Awards were given on August 25 to architects whose projects include and demonstrate a level of good design principles of the 21st century. You can use this link to watch a short video of the judges’ comments beginning at the 16:21 time mark.

The project continues to be recognized in 2022. Constitution Hall received the 2022 District of Columbia Awards for Excellence in Historic Preservation in Design and Construction from the D.C. Preservation League (DCPL)--where the ceremony and reception were held in the award-wining venue on November 1. Katie Irwin and our project partner Tom Whitmore, Vice President, Historic Preservation at The Christman Company are featured in this video, highlighting important features and aspects of the project. In addition, Constitution Hall has also received the Award of Honor for Excellence in Historic Preservation from AIA Virginia during their awards ceremony on November 4.

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