Five-Year Air and Space Rehab

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is planning a five-year overhaul to its exterior and mechanical systems starting in 2017, during which portions of the museum will be closed, Smithsonian officials announced. The sheathing of the building is 1.25-inch-thick Tennessee pink marble—a type of limestone—which is warping and cracking and won’t withstand further weathering. The envelope of 13,000 panels conceals the museum’s 38-year-old electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems, which were expected to last 25-30 years and must be replaced. After the rehab, the museum will be more efficient, meeting or exceeding “best-practice standards for sustainability and energy use.” As portions close for the rehab, galleries will be updated. For example, the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall will be renovated in time for the museum’s 40th anniversary in 2016. Some portions of the museum will remain open during the entire rehab, the cost of which will be determined after design is complete. Federal appropriations will be sought to fund the overhaul, but private funds will be solicited to update the exhibitions. Opened in 1976 with an anticipated attendance of three million visitors a year, the museum has become the most popular in the world, typically drawing between seven and nine million visitors annually.