B. Recommendations to Improve the Architectural and Aesthetic Setting for NMAH Exhibits
The problem of "incoherence," while partly substantive, seems
also to be a natural reaction to the physical incomprehensibility of the
Museum -- and to its cluttered "attic effect." NMAH and the
Smithsonian have commissioned preliminary work for architectural re-design.
The Commission has had access to that work in process. The recommendations
that follow derive, in part, from review of that work -- with an eye,
especially, toward improving the visitors' perception of NMAH coherence.
THE COMMISSION AFFIRMS THE DESIRABILITY OF OPENING UP THE MULTI-STORY PHYSICAL CORE OF THE MUSEUM. Doing so would not only increase the aesthetic appeal of the museum. It would also reduce the sense of clutter, and increase visitors' ability to see where they are -- and where they might wish to go -- within the Museum.
RECOMMENDATION (4) re: A CENTRAL ICON
THE COMMISSION AFFIRMS THE MUSEUM'S INTENTION TO TREAT THE RESTORED STAR SPANGLED BANNER AS A CENTRAL ICON -- TO RETURN IT TO THE VISIBLE CORE OF THE MUSEUM AND PRESENT IT IN CONJUNCTION WITH AN INTERPRETIVE EXHIBIT ON THE FLAG'S MEANINGS AND USES THROUGHOUT AMERICAN HISTORY. Note: While special measures must (and will) be taken to assure that the flag is preserved and protected, it is also desirable that it be highly visible.
RECOMMENDATION (5) re: ADDITIONAL HIGHLY VISIBLE ICONS
THE MUSEUM SHOULD:
Note: NMAH has appreciated the Commission's view on the need to highlight a carefully chosen set of important and popular icons, and has begun to incorporate this view in plans for the design of future floor space. (Ten locations for "Landmark Artifacts" are identified in floor plans in Appendix H.)
RECOMMENDATION (6) re: LIGHT
NMAH SHOULD RADICALLY IMPROVE THE MUSEUM'S LIGHTING BY UPGRADING ITS ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING, AS NECESSARY, AND RESTORING THE MUSEUM'S ACCESS TO NATURAL LIGHT THROUGH SUCH GLAZING AS WAS PROVIDED IN THE MUSEUM'S ORIGINAL DESIGN -- DOING SO IN A WAY THAT ALLOWS VISITORS TO BENEFIT FROM THE EXTRAORDINARY VIEWS OF THE MONUMENTS AND MALL. Note: The Commission appreciates the risks that light poses for the preservation of some objects, but believes that this recommendation can be implemented in a manner that attends responsibly to such risks.
RECOMMENDATION (7) re: ADDITIONAL EXHIBIT SPACE
THE MUSEUM SHOULD RECOGNIZE THE EXTRAORDINARY SCARCITY VALUE OF ITS FLOOR SPACE ON THE MALL, AND SHOULD FIND OPPORTUNITES TO MOVE TO OTHER LOCATIONS THOSE FUNCTIONS THAT DO NOT NEED TO BE ON THE MALL OR IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO THE EXHIBITS. Note: An example of the type of function that would be a prime candidate for relocation is telephone response service. Similarly, there would appear to be opportunities to gain precious space by reconfiguring the existing basement cafeteria and shop, and, perhaps, by selectively relocating stored materials that are not used frequently. This is not meant as a broad or indiscriminate recommendation. The Commission appreciates the value of maintaining certain research and restoration capabilities and certain stored collections near exhibits.
RECOMMENDATION (8) re: CLUTTER
NMAH SHOULD RECOGNIZE THAT BECAUSE COLLECTIONS AND THE DESIRE TO DISPLAY THEM WILL CONTINUE TO GROW, ONE-TIME EFFORTS TO REDUCE CLUTTER WILL NOT SUFFICE; AN INTERNAL MECHANISM MUST BE ESTABLISHED TO RESIST CONTINUOUSLY THE INEVITABLE PRESSURES TOWARD CLUTTER. Note: Opening the vertical core, providing clear horizontal lines of sight, improving the lighting, and increasing available exhibit space all may reduce the sense of clutter. But any space can be filled or over-filled. It will take aesthetic discipline and authority to counter-balance the understandable interest in displaying as much as possible of NMAH's vast and growing collections.
RECOMMENDATION (9) re: SPACE FOR AN INTRODUCTORY EXHIBIT
THE COMMISSION STRONGLY RECOMMENDS THAT ARCHITECTURAL AND DESIGN CONTRACTS PLAN EXPLICITLY FOR THE INCLUSION OF A SUBSTANTIAL INTRODUCTORY EXHIBIT THAT IS READILY ACCESSIBLE TO VISITORS UPON ENTRY TO THE MUSEUM -- AS IS DISCUSSED FURTHER BELOW.