The art museum has been an important cultural center of civilized society since its inception in the eighteenth century. In the past, art museums commonly presented themselves as sacred spaces for spiritual nourishment. Today, however, art museums offer great shopping and food in conjunction with art to draw larger audiences. In spite of criticism from the museum professionals, the retail shops and restaurants have become an integral part of the mainstream museum experience.
This project is to redesign two existing cafés at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. The Gallery consists of two adjacent buildings -- the neoclassical West Building and the modern East Building -- and the Sculpture Garden. This project includes the Garden Café in the West Building and the Terrace Café in the East Building. The Garden Café is located in the center of ground level. In spite of the great accessibility, its boundaries are open to pass-through traffic pattern. As a result, it has a rushed ambience of a food court rather than a fine dining facility. In addition, it obstructs the visitor's traffic pattern. On the other hand, the Terrace Café, which is tucked in the fourth floor in the East Building, suffered from the lack of visibility. In turn, it failed to patronize the facility.
Two new cafés are designed not only to reflect each building's unique collections and atmosphere, but also to help further the Gallery's mission: fostering understanding of works of art. The Gallery achieves this by disseminating knowledge about art to visitors and enhancing their aesthetic experience.
Intensive research about the National Gallery's history, architecture and collection, and the study of museum theories and practices set the direction for the design of the two new cafés.
The neoclassical West Building houses major exhibition galleries. Its collection focuses on European art. The West Builidng's main function is to provide a serene place for the contemplation of art. It offers a respite from the tensions and pressures of hectic city life. The new dining facility, Café Repose, aims to perform the same function as a shelter removed from the outside world. The design inspiration came directly from the Gallery's own collection: John Singer Sargent's painting, Repose. This painting's gracious setting and Europeanism mirror the atmosphere of the West Building. By creating a unique and elegant interior, this café is intended to enhance the visitor's aesthetic experience.
On the other hand, the modern style East Building houses not only the Gallery's modern and contemporary art collection, but also includes a research center. One of the major functions of the East Building is education. To foster understanding of contemporary art, a book café is envisioned for this space. For the visual inspiration, the Minimalism sculptures were selected. By using the Minimalism artists' powerful visual vocabularies and theories, this café responds to the aesthetic and mission of the East Building.