The design selection process for the planned Bezos Learning Center at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum may sound a bit like “America’s Got Talent” for architects — but the $130 million prize is far beyond the pale. of the game.
That’s how much money Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is giving to build the 50,000-square-foot center as an addition to the museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The renovation of the Space Museum, which was announced last summer.
The Bezos Learning Center will feature activities that inspire students to pursue innovation and explore careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and math — or STEAM, for short. The Smithsonian emphasized that the center will not only focus on aerospace, but will connect with all of the institution’s museums.
In January, the Smithsonian asked design firms to submit proposals for the center, which will replace a pyramid-shaped restaurant that was built on the museum grounds in 1988 but ceased operations in 2017. Last week, museum planners unveiled five plans proposals. The architects behind the proposals are identified only as Firm A, Firm B, Firm C, Firm D and Firm E.
Judging by the images included in the proposals, there is likely to be a prominent place in the learning center for items related to Blue Origin, Bezos’ space venture. Most of the ideas point to Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft, which began carrying humans on suborbital space trips last year.
Each concept has a space theme: Firm A works in hexagonal shapes that evoke the dome of the International Space Station as well as the segmented mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope. Company B’s concept has a flimsy look that suggests the bow of a ship (or the upward rise of a missile). Firm C incorporates a UFO-like spaceship pod, while Firm D and Firm E go with astronomical motifs (a spiral galaxy for D, a nebula for E).
Like “America’s Got Talent,” the Smithsonian’s design competition provides an opportunity for the general public to weigh in. The foundation’s website offers a way for people to review the anonymous companies’ proposals and provide feedback until September 19. The winner may be chosen by the end of the year — but don’t expect the decision to be made based on write-in votes.
According to a schedule established last year, the design review process for the learning center will continue into next year. Construction is said to begin in 2024, and the center’s completion is targeted for 2026 — which will mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the National Air and Space Museum at its current location.