‘Bun’ Makes a Donut

How Gordon Bunshaft came up with the National Mall’s most curious architectural treat.

The Hirshhorn offered Bunshaft the chance to demonstrate that there was a modern architectural style to link the arts — a dream, perhaps, but also the answer to an anxiety, that architecture would be taken over by “geniuses” from another field. Photo © Ezra Stoller | ESTO

“Is it a sculpture or a building is what I am wondering?”

Bunshaft’s proposal to cross the Mall with a sunken sculpture garden would, critics said, either gouge a deep pit across the Mall or have taller sculptures protruding unacceptably. Photo by Robert Fine
Once the site on the south side of the Mall had been settled, Smithsonian Institution president, S. Dillon Ripley suggested a circular plan for the museum, either persuaded by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum or possibly by John Russell Pope’s Jefferson Memorial. Image © SOM
The soffit has “a leaf pattern, sort of nervy or something . . . a very sculptural thing.” The reference, transcribed as “nervy” at the meeting, could, in fact, be to the engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, whose work had been in Bunshaft’s sights since Emhart, at least. Image © SOM
If the Hirshhorn lacked the fluidity of space and the possibility for orientation found at the Guggenheim, it made up for it with the grand height of the galleries. Photo © Ezra Stoller | ESTO
The lone mall-facing window and its balcony really formed, as Bunshaft said, “an old time loggia, somewhat in that feeling.” Photo © Ezra Stoller | ESTO

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