Learning Curve

The Beaux Arts Flagg Building, which once housed Washington’s beloved Corcoran Gallery of Art and its art school, just got a new lease on life. Now home to George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts & Design, the 1897 gem designed by Ernest Flagg has been reimagined as a state-of-the-art facility for arts education and exhibition—the first phase of a multi-tiered project spearheaded by the Washington office of architecture firm Leo A Daly.

The renovation preserves the interiors—many of which have historic designation—while creating classrooms, studios and small exhibition spaces. “The needs of training emerging 21st-century artists bear little in common with the needs of 19th-century art exhibitions,” explains senior project architect Jess Kim. “Our challenge was to reimagine these epic-scale exhibition spaces as intimate learning environments without altering the historic fabric.”

The new design elevates classrooms, most of which were housed in the basement, to the upper floors, separating them with walls that stop short of the ceiling to protect existing finishes and ensure easy removal. The building envelope has been reinforced and new mechanical and electrical systems tucked away to minimize visual impact, while pipes follow the curves of coves and moldings to blend with the architecture.

The restored second-floor rotunda remains a gallery space; it recently showcased “Forever in Your Debt,”
a massive pottery installation (pictured above) by Kelli Rae Adams that explored the cost of education in America.

Future phases will restore the building’s stone façade, lay lights and skylights.

Renovation Architecture: Leo A Daly, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: Whiting-Turner, Baltimore, Maryland.