For many years it would have been difficult to imagine a building less in favour than the Hirshhorn Museum. The concrete tub on Washington DC’s National Mall was often derided as a disaster, a relic from the Brutalist years; a work by architect Gordon Bunshaft, who was once responsible for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s best and most refined buildings but was, by then, past a prime which saw him tailor exquisitely refined corporate landmarks such as New York’s 1952 Lever House.
How things change. Today the Hirshhorn is seen as a sculptural object in its own right, a hardy survivor from an architectural era which has lost so many monuments. Its sculpture garden, though, has fared less well. Its opening in 1974 coincided with the capital’s lowest ebb. A city still scarred and blackened from the riots sparked by the death of Martin Luther King, the downtown was emptying of