Smithsonian’s Dinosaur Hall Re-Opens After Five-Year Restoration

On Saturday, following a five-year renovation, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. re-opened its David H. Koch Hall of Fossils—home to the museum’s collection of dinosaur fossils and its latest exhibit, “Deep Time.”

The historic hall has finally been restored to its former 1910, Beaux Arts Gallery design by EwingCole—an award-winning architecture, engineering and interior design firm based in Philadelphia.

“There was a desire across the Smithsonian to look at the architectural integrity of their buildings and determine how they could best strengthen them and bring them back,” said EwingCole Director of Cultural Practice, Jeffrey Hirsch. “One major goal for the project was to convey a respect for our architectural heritage by returning the hall’s aesthetics to their original state.”

Major reconstruction projects in the 1960s, 1980s and early 2000s dramatically altered the Dinosaur Hall’s appearance and ambiance. Exterior windows and a skylight above the hall had been previously covered, obstructing natural light and altering the entire feel of the gallery.

Original, ornate decorative plasterwork was done away with, in favor of an alternative aesthetic for the gallery. Thanks to EwingCole’s efforts, these unique characteristics have been restored in an authentic, meaningful and responsible way. At the same time, the museum’s aging infrastructure has been upgraded with modern technologies.

EwingCole’s Director of Lighting Design, Angela Matchica, noted the importance of bringing daylight back into the space, adding, “unmitigated sunlight created problems for the museum and its specimens in the past, so re-exposing Dinosaur Hall’s skylights came with a set of challenges.”

Rising to the occasion, designers applied an advanced glazing system containing an aerogel nanotechnology that serves as both an insulator and light filter, neutralizing ultraviolet light and heat, so the 65 million-year-old specimens below remain protected, even as natural daylight now floods the gallery.

New additions include the interactive FossiLab, a fully functioning research space situated within the gallery that gives visitors a behind-the-scenes view of paleontological research. Viewers can peer directly onto scientists’ workstations as the experts clean and study specimens.

Architect Ryan Delahoussaye commented, “From the original concept, there was a strong interest in letting the researchers engage with the public and having them understand that this work is ongoing.”

Also reopened on June 8 is the renovated West Court Atrium, home to an improved cafeteria and a new first-floor restaurant, which provides a perfect viewing area for the newly installed megalodon—a prehistoric, 50-foot shark.

With the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils open once again, all of the iconic museum’s halls stand ready to welcome the roughly eight million visitors who flock to see its collections annually.

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