One of the East Building's new skylit towers displays works by Mark Rothko.
The building's Tennessee pink marble exterior creates a glow after dark; the same stone paves the new tower stairs.
A rendering shows the new roof terrace and its outdoor sculptures.
A rendering shows the new roof terrace and its outdoor sculptures.

Applause: Play of Light

Clearly, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art has staying power. In 2004, it won an American Institute of Architects Twenty-Five Year Award, given to landmarks that have withstood the test of time. Now, a major renovation and expansion bring architect I. M. Pei’s 1978 masterpiece into the 21st century with two new tower galleries, a rooftop terrace, and updates that display its collections in fresh and exciting ways.

The latest improvements were conceived by architect Perry Y. Chin, a longtime Pei associate, and protégé. As museum director Earl A. Powell III said at the gallery’s September media preview, “Perry continued the vocabulary of I. M. Pei.”

The renovation, which closed the East Building for three years, added more than 12,250 square feet of exhibition space within its existing footprint. Fumed, quarter-sawn oak replaced carpet on the mezzanine and upper levels to match the flooring of the West Building, while new stairways and an elevator improve circulation. Said Powell, “The visitor has many more choices for moving around the building.”

Curators took the opportunity to rethink and reinstall the East Building’s permanent collection, and the expansion made room for 150 additional works of art, now on view. The museum’s curator of modern art, Harry Cooper, marveled over the East Building’s new look, “We have a lovely play of light and a sense of openness.”

RENOVATION CONCEPT DESIGN: PERRY Y. CHIN, Perry Y. Chin, Architect, New York, New York. ARCHITECT OF RECORD: MARY KATHERINE LANZILLOTTA, FAIA, LEED AP, Hartman-Cox Architects, Washington, DC. LANDSCAPE: Oculus, Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, Baltimore, Maryland.