The new International Spy Museum. © Nic Lehoux
The new International Spy Museum. © Nic Lehoux

Under Cover

With chatter about global espionage dominating daily news cycles, the May opening of DC’s new International Spy Museum felt especially timely. But headlines aside, the boldly modern gem has another goal: to invigorate DC’s L’Enfant Plaza, long a no-man’s-land of government office buildings. With more than double the floor space of the museum’s previous location in Penn Quarter, the 140,000-square-foot structure is a first step toward revitalizing 10th Street, Southwest, where it nestles between the National Mall and District Wharf.

The design by British architecture firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners was inspired by the espionage-related concept of “hiding in plain sight.” A pleated, diagonal-walled box with bright red fins conceals three floors of exhibits; a glass veil over the structure encloses the two-story atrium yet clearly reveals the box within. Two top floors in the atrium, including a rooftop terrace, host special events.

The new museum boasts a widened scope and an ambitious agenda. “The world of espionage has been transformed since we first opened in 2002,” notes the museum’s founder, philanthropist Milton Maltz. “We felt it was vitally important to update and expand the stories we tell and the insights we provide.” Among the highlights: a section of the tunnel that once connected East and West Berlin; the axe that killed Leon Trotsky; and—ensconced in the lobby—007’s original, tricked-out Aston Martin.

Architecture: Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, London, England. Architect of Record: Hickok Cole, Washington, DC. Contractor: Clark Construction, Bethesda, Maryland.