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60+ Years of Design + Innovation

Telling a Story of Leadership in Flight and Space Exploration
1976

Telling a Story of Leadership in Flight and Space Exploration

The National Mall in Washington, DC, proves to be the perfect setting for the National Air and Space Museum.

Due to the size of the airplane exhibits and the need to accommodate large crowds, Gyo Obata must think in terms of big spaces. His experience working on shopping malls inspires a two-level design.

At its simplest, the museum is an aviary for retired airplanes. At the same time, it is a gigantic mechanism for moving hordes of people efficiently through a multitude of displays. “What I wanted was a museum where you never got lost,” Gyo says.

The simple but monumental limestone volumes, linked by atria, offer a heroic scale well-suited to the story of America’s pioneering role in flight and space exploration.

On July 4, 1976, the National Air and Space Museum is dedicated as the first event in America’s bicentennial celebration. It’s a day to remember. President Ford attends the dedication ceremony and Mr. Mac of McDonnell Douglas Aircraft invites Gyo to ride along in his jet on the trip back to St. Louis. That same day, one of President Ford’s chief assistants invites Gyo to the White House for a private tour.

Hosting about 10 million annual visitors, the structure, which rests on a prominent site along the National Mall, remains the world’s most-visited museum. Years later, HOK is asked to design an even larger aviation museum for the Smithsonian near Dulles Airport.