Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, Discovery Center

Converting Historic Theater With Technology

The Discovery Center is a renovation of the West Court of the National Museum of Natural History. The program includes a 500-seat IMAX® 3D theater, a 5,000 SF Immersion Studio, an 800-seat restaurant, and a skylit atrium within the existing brick-and-stone courtyard.

The design reflects the original building’s vertical organization, in which the theater entrance sits at rotunda level to usher visitors up to the second-floor theater. The West Court façade maintains the original building’s historic 1910 fabric while forms and surfaces in the Center subtly refer to the museum’s content. Soleado shell-stone door surrounds, for instance, resemble abstract fossilized remnants, columns in the café recall armadillo tails, and the café dome resembles a tortoise shell.

HGA worked within guidelines of the State Historic Preservation Office, the National Capital Planning Commission, the Council of Fine Arts, and the Smithsonian’s office of Architectural History and Historic Preservation.


Washington, DC

Building Type

Nature & Science Centers


80,000 SF

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