Renovating a Landmark:
In 2000, the Patent Office Building -- the building in which you are standing -- was closed for a much needed state-of-the-art renovation. Systems had outlived their useful life, and pipes in the attic had burst, sending streams of water into the galleries below. All staff offices, art collections, and support facilities of the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum were moved to other locations.
Over the next six years, complete new electrical, communications, security, plumbing, and lighting systems were installed. Floors that had originally been of marble or wood were replicated as closely to the originals as possible. Because it had badly deteriorated, the magnificent encaustic tile floor of the third-floor Great Hall was removed and replaced with an exact copy produced by a firm in England. More than 550 decaying wood-framed windows were replicated for thermal efficiency, using hand-blown glass from Poland to simulate the irregularities of old panes.
A major challenge was the installation of a modern heating and air-conditioning system in massive new ductwork throughout the building without destroying its historic architecture. Although the location of old chimney flues was known, sonar was employed to detect undiscovered channels in the masonry walls.
A significant gift made possible the construction of a badly needed auditorium for the two museums. The only location for such a large unencumbered space was under the building's open interior courtyard. Excavation of the courtyard necessitated the removal of two 19th-century cast-iron fountains and two old elm trees, which were already infected with Dutch elm disease. An even more generous gift permitted the courtyard to be enclosed with glass canopy so it could be used year-round for dining, installations, and large-scale events. Sir Normal Foster of London was selected in an international competition as the architect for the canopy's contemporary design.
In 2005 the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation made a magnificent grant that enabled the building's $283 million renovation to be completed. In recognition of this gift, the building and its facilities were renamed the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. The museums reopened to the public in July 2006 and the courtyard in November 2007.