Awards of Excellence 2019
Hickok Cole
International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum
Award of Excellence
Best Instituional Facility

Project Team

JBG SMITH - (Developer)
International Spy Museum - (Owner)
Hickok Cole - (Executive Architect)
Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners - (Design Architect)
Clark Construction Group - (General Contractor)
Vanderweil - (MEP / Fire Protection Engineer)
Advanced Building Solutions - (Commissioning)
Wiles Mensch Corporation - (Civil Engineer)
Available Light - (Lighting)
Michael Vergason - (Landscape)
Thornton Tomasetti/Roschmann Group - (Façade)
Hoffman Borowski and Associates - (Sustainability)
Nic Lehoux - (Photography)
Jospeh Romeo - (Photography)

Executive Summary

Since 2002, the International Spy Museum called DC’s Penn Quarter home. After out-growing its original space, the Museum sought a new and iconic site that could meet the needs of a world class facility, showcase the largest collection of espionage artifacts, and support the organization’s mission to educate the public on how intelligence has changed the course of history in an engaging and interactive way. The site also presented a unique opportunity for community impact, connecting the underutilized two-mile stretch between the National Mall and the new Wharf DC development.

Designers were tasked to deliver an architecturally impactful and stimulating building that would draw visitors and reinvigorate the surrounding plaza area, but faced two monumental challenges early on. Apart from the need to adhere to a strict budget and aggressive 48-month schedule, the site existed above an operational subterranean shopping mall and parking garage that support a major Metro station and surrounding office buildings. The international project team was quickly assembled at the start of the project to form a strong collaborative relationship that resulted in a holistic approach supported by an evidence-based iterative process for a sustainable and economically conscious building.

Another major consideration for the team was achieving a design scheme that could accommodate any future collections, something the previous museum space lacked. By integrating a combination of building systems including MEP and 3-D modeling in an innovative way, the team was able to provide the International Spy Museum with the highest level of flexibility to establish an ever-evolving rotation of relevant and refreshing exhibits and initiatives that would effectively carry out their mission to bring the world of espionage to life.

The Museum’s final design concept is a play on the business of espionage, intended to be “hidden in plain sight” and, much like the role of a spy, the Museum structure is not quite what it seems. The mystery and intrigue of the exhibits are obscured behind a dark metal black box which sits above a transparent base. With its evocative form, powerful sloped columns, corrugated metal panel skin, and pleated glass veil, the museum sparks intrigue from a distance and lures in passersby, making a vibrant architectural and urban statement in the existing concrete canyon of L’Enfant Plaza.

Now with more than double the floor space, the relocated museum serves as a catalyst for the revitalization of the L’Enfant Plaza neighborhood, reinforcing the intentions of the SW Ecodistrict Plan by connecting the National Mall to The Wharf and future developments south of the site. By expanding and relocating to the evolving area, the Museum now plans to attract twice its original crowd of local, national and international visitors annually.


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