Kogod Courtyard

Location: Washington, DC

Client: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Year of Completion: 2012

Area: 28,000 square feet


  • Tucker Design Award
  • 2012 Finalist Great Places Award
  • Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA)
  • Named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of seven architectural wonders of the world

The old Patent Office Building in Washington D.C. has seen a number of changes since Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball was held there in 1865. The latest change is the creation of the Kogod Courtyard, at the center of what has now become the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum. This 28,000 square-foot courtyard, covered by a signature Norman Foster skylight, contains four long rectangular water scrims. These flush features can be independently modulated to produce effects ranging from textured, slightly rippled surfaces, to mirror-like planes that beautifully reflect the intricate lattice of the skylight above, to no effect at all. When the fountain is turned off, it virtually vanishes into the surrounding paving, leaving its footprint available for whatever purpose the gallery has in mind. This water feature presented a number of unique design challenges resulting from the complex and unyielding structure of the historical building where it lives. For instance, hundreds of gallons per minute of flow had to disappear into, and then be transported from an existing below-deck space barely 6-inches high. Nonetheless, the result is a beautiful fountain, enjoyed and appreciated by all who visit the courtyard.