The Newseum, the world’s largest museum dedicated to journalism, opens its doors tomorrow in Washington, D.C. Designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, the $450 million, mixed-use building provides 250,000 square feet of space for the museum, three-times more room than its little-trafficked previous home in suburban Arlington, Virginia. Now located near the northeast corner of the National Mall, it fronts Pennsylvania Avenue with a glass-clad facade intended to symbolize the openness of the press and democracy—and to help lure tourists inside. “It is great collaboration of architecture and content,” says Peter S. Pritchard, president of the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation that operates the Newseum.
James S. Polshek, FAIA, who worked on the project with Joseph L. Fleisher, FAIA, describes the building as engaging in “a monumental dialogue” with its other grand neighbors: the Canadian Embassy next door, and the National Gallery of Art, across the street. “In a sense it’s part of the fabric of Washington,” he says. It was also the last open site on “America’s Main Street,” as Pennsylvania Avenue is sometimes called, located between the Capitol and the White House.
Visitors enter the Newseum next to a 74-foot-tall, 50-ton panel of Tennessee marble engraved with the words of the First Amendment—a graphic device similar to one that Polshek used in the facade of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, in upstate New York. Museum-goers take glass-enclosed elevators, overlooking a 90-foot-tall atrium, to the top of the seven-story building and then enter a winding, 1.5-mile path of 14 galleries and 15 theaters. Two 250-foot-long trusses help create a column-free interior space.
Local critics have given the Newseum’s design mixed reviews. Writing in a Washington Post op-ed last month, architect Roger K. Lewis said it is “aesthetically compelling but also represents thoughtful urban design.” But the own paper’s architecture critic, Philip Kennicott, wrote “aesthetically, it just doesn’t work,” adding that the “building suffers from too much jazz, too much angularity, too much discordant massing.” The project also attracted press because of a missed deadline—namely, its scheduled October 2007 opening date. Construction delays reportedly contributed to the problem, as did the need for extra time to install and test state-of-the-art electronics systems.
The Newseum’s more than 6,200 artifacts include one of the largest collections of the Berlin Wall fragments outside Germany, and the laptop of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Visitors can star as TV reporters in an interactive newsroom, one of many hands-on exhibits designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates. One of two state-of-the-art television studios will host ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” The 643,000-square-foot mixed-use building also includes the Freedom Forum’s offices, 136 luxury rental apartments, and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant.