Kogod Courtyard

Location: Washington, DC

Client: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Year of Completion: 2012

Area: 28,000 square feet


  • AIA Oregon Chapter, Merit Award, 2012
  • American Architecture Awards, the Chicago Athenaeum, 2012
  • Urban Land Institute, Amanda Burden Open Space Award, Finalist, 2011
  • Forbes, List of Most High-Tech Green Buildings, 2010
  • Tucker Design Award 2010

The old Patent Office Building in Washington D.C. has seen a numerous changes since being the site of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball 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. When the features are turned off and the water flows away, they virtually vanish into the surrounding paving, leaving the footprints available as useable space. This installation presented a number of unique design challenges due to the complex and unyielding structure of the historical building. For instance, hundreds of gallons of water per minute had to disappear into, and then be transported from an existing below-deck space barely 6-inches high. The result is a beautiful, subtle, engaging water feature.