Massive 'Museum of the Bible' Takes Huge Leap Forward

Exterior rendering of the eight-story, 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible. Opening in 2017, the museum is being designed by lead architect group Smith Group JJR
Exterior rendering of the eight-story, 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible. Opening in 2017, the museum is being designed by lead architect group Smith Group JJR (Smith Group JJR/ Museum of the Bible)

The eight-story, 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible took a giant step toward its 2017 opening in Washington, D.C., beginning with surgical demolition of a 1982 addition to the historical building that will be reinvented as an international Bible museum. (Design renderings and video of live demolition are available online.) Purchased for $50 million in 2012, the former refrigeration warehouse and interior design showcase site—three blocks from the U.S. Capitol—will be restored, adapted and enhanced over the next three years to create the newest addition to D.C.'s pantheon of museums, as part of a more than $400 million construction project.

At a media briefing in Washington, Museum of the Bible President Cary Summers announced the museum's lead partners for design and construction, which include some of the biggest names in the museum and monuments industry.

"We've partnered with the best construction and design teams in the world to make Museum of the Bible an engaging, inviting and innovative place that people all over the world will want to visit," said Summers. "We've empowered them with the task of creating a museum space that honors this site's history, improves the immediate area and neighborhood, and captures the essence of the Bible through a recognizable, iconic landmark."

Clark Construction, consistently ranked among the nation's leading building and civil contractors, and whose recent work includes the White House Visitor Center renovation and the Smithsonian's National Museums of African-American History and Culture, and of the American Indian, will lead the construction efforts out of its Bethesda, Maryland, office.

Working alongside Clark Construction is the museum's architectural design team, D.C.-based SmithGroupJJR, the nation's 8th-largest architecture/engineering firm and the world's 36th-largest architecture practice. Its portfolio also includes the Smithsonian's National Museums of African-American History and Culture, and of the American Indian, as well as the International Spy Museum.

The teams developing the museum's three primary exhibit floors—focused on the Bible's impact, narrative and history—include:

  • The PRD Group out of Chantilly, Virginia, which has worked on the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and National Museum of Natural History. PRD is directing the History of the Bible floor.
  • Oscar-nominated firm BRC Imagination Arts in Burbank, California, is developing the Narrative of the Bible floor. Its history includes such sites as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Disney's Hollywood Studio Orlando and Universal Studios Japan.
  • Nashville-based Jonathan Martin Creative will create a first-century Nazareth village replica.
  • C&G Partners in New York is leading design of the Impact of the Bible floor and has led past design efforts for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Prominent construction and design features of Museum of the Bible will include:

  • Three permanent exhibit floors, each measuring 55,000 square feet, that will tell the impact, narrative and history of the Bible
  • A grand lobby with a wall-to-wall, 200-foot LED ceiling that displays a moving canvas of infinite visual possibilities
  • A two-story, window-clad, rooftop galley providing a 500-seat performing-arts theater, garden restaurant and 500-seat ballroom overlooking the National Mall and U.S. Capitol
  • A front entrance on 4th Street SW flanked by massive, textured bronze panels and stained glass depicting abstract biblical manuscripts, created by a museum-commissioned German artist
  • 20,000 square feet for exhibits from affiliated museums and libraries (yet to be announced) and an additional 10,000 square feet for a special traveling exhibit gallery
  • A one-story rooftop addition to the neighboring office complex to house the museum's artifact research program, including a 20,000-square-foot reference library, research labs and an academic conference center
  • The building's 1923 original red-brick masonry, classical features and exterior ornamentation restored to their original condition and new, handmade brickwork imported from Denmark

Throughout 2015, visitors to the site will witness ongoing surgical demolition. Later, across 2016 and 2017, will come the installation of the new rooftop addition, expansion above the Washington Office Center, exterior glazing and renovations, streetscape improvements and, of course, build-out of the museum's content and experiential technologies.

"I think I speak for everyone involved in design and construction when I thank Museum of the Bible for challenging us to create an innovative, one-of-a-kind museum," said Brian Flegel, project director of construction for Museum of the Bible and senior vice president of Clark Construction. "No stone was left unturned in the design process, and every square inch of this museum has been thought and re-thought. Partnering with the Museum of the Bible team, all the exhibit designers, lighting specialists, architects and construction contractors have been given incredible artistic freedom to make this museum into one of the best in the world."

Located at the intersection of D and 4th Streets in the capital's southwestern quadrant, the museum's primary building has been awarded historical status by D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board.

Content for the museum's permanent exhibit floors is still being designed and refined by a team of scholars, consultants and other experts. Additional details, including the announcement of museum partnerships and technological innovations for the guest experience, will be announced at a later date.


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