The renovation of the National Museum of Natural History’s central galleries restored the grandeur of the original Beaux-Arts spaces and created a more dramatic, welcoming visitor environment within one of the nation’s most popular museums.

Quinn Evans Architects’ concepts for the transformation of the central halls improved wayfinding, re-established connectivity and flow, increased daylight, updated building systems, restored the historic architectural character, and prepared the halls for the installation of the new Ocean exhibit.


  • Renovation of central exhibition halls
  • Enhancement of Beaux-Arts details
  • Integration of new engineering systems within historic fabric
  • Improved museum wayfinding
  • 52,000-square-foot renovation
  • Located within National Museum of Natural History - a National Historic Landmark


  • 2009 Honor Award for Institutional Architecture, AIA | Potomac Valley
A massive skylight and laylight capping the main exhibit hall, together with restored courtyard windows along the side wall, have reintroduced daylight into the grand spaces.  © Ron Blunt PhotographyThe renovation created a dynamic environment in which to showcase the all-new exhibits of the Sant Ocean Hall.  © Ron Blunt PhotographyNew systems were carefully integrated into the historic halls.  © Ron Blunt Photography© Ron Blunt PhotographyEscalators blocking the central portal between the main hall and the Rotunda were removed and new escalators added to the sides of the hall.  © Ron Blunt Photography
“The magnificence of this space is a wonderful backdrop for the Sant Ocean Hall…The Smithsonian chose Quinn Evans Architects for this project, a firm with extensive experience in historic preservation…Quinn Evans has relied on Rathburn’s “A Descriptive Account of the Building” and archival drawings from that time to guide their work.”

Smithsonian Institution


The Sant Ocean Hall within the National Museum of Natural History occupies what had been originally a magnificent two-story exhibit hall. A soaring space with high ceilings and ornate details, the hall had been carved into smaller rooms over the intervening years. One of the museum’s three primary galleries, it links the building’s two main entrances, fronting Constitution Avenue and the National Mall. The Sant Ocean Hall has now been restored to its majestic grandeur, with 54.5-foot ceilings in the central gallery and 22-foot ceilings in the side galleries. The renovation also reopened balconies on the second floor and reintroduced skylights, plaster columns, cornices, and original walls, all while upgrading the infrastructure necessary to stage a 21st century exhibit.