A Gracious and Welcome Approach

National Museum of Natural History South Entrance

National Museum of Natural History South Entrance

Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC

Entry to the National Museum of Natural History now consists of a gracious ascent for all visitors, no matter their physical ability. Our design harmonizes with the Museum’s historic façade, transcending minimum accessibility requirements to create a dignified and equitable experience.

We added symmetrical walkways to either side of the Museum’s monumental stair, which rises 13 feet above Madison Drive. The accessible walk is connected to the stair at both ends, meaning all visitors begin and end their ascent at the same place. Our design balances access, historic context, and the Smithsonian’s standards to better serve the Museum’s millions of annual visitors.

These sloped walkways are a great example for other museums and historic buildings on the National Mall to follow in providing more accessibility for the American public.
Photo of museum ramp with people.
Photo of people sitting on a stone bench and the Washington Monument in the background.

Design for Everyone

Accessible design makes life better for everybody. We graded the walkway at less than 5% to create an easy path for people of all abilities. Its finish reduces vibration for those with wheeled mobility devices, which also makes children in strollers more comfortable.

A photo of the ramp at the entrance to a museum.

Making History Accessible

Our design goal was for the addition to complement the historic building and its iconic entrance, but also make a distinct statement. We used Lake Placid granite for its similar veining but different tone to the existing pink granite. Alternating height courses reference the banding on the Museum’s façade.

Close up photo of museum ramp.

Inspiration from Nature

A feature design element is a cast tombasil bronze guard and handrail. The guard pickets subtly splay at the handrail height, referencing botanical themes and adding a contemporary element to the classical entry.

Historical Photo of the museum building.

Icon on the Mall

The Smithsonian’s third building on the National Mall opened in 1910. Designed by the architectural firm Hornblower & Marshall, the neoclassical structure originally housed collections relating to American history, art, and culture in addition to natural specimens.

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