Hirshhorn Bubble



The “Bubble” is an inflatable event space planned for the cylindrical courtyard of the Hirshhorn Museum. In respectful dialogue with this Modernist icon originally designed by Gordon Bunshaft in 1974, the Bubble is an architecture of air: a pneumatic structure enclosed only by a thin translucent membrane that squeezes into the void of the building and oozes out the top and beneath its mass. In contrast to the familiar strategy of roofing over courtyards of institutional buildings, the Bubble produces a soft building inside of a hard one in which existing and new spaces, both interior and exterior are playfully intertwined. The ephemeral structure is erected once a year for two months, allowing the museum to optimize its footprint by programming the courtyard space. The additional 11,000 sf of sheltered space accommodates audiences of 500—800 for an array of public events including performing arts, film, lectures and debates. Its form is shaped by a series of cable rings that constrict the membrane, pulling it away from the inner wall of the courtyard while other cables tether it into place. The resulting contours act acoustically and produce changing shafts and pockets of outdoor space experienced from the ground and the galleries on the second and third levels.

  • View of cafe
    View of cafe
  • View from interior gallery into courtyard
    View from interior gallery into courtyard
  • Film screening
    Film screening
  • Model
  • Inflated state
Project information
Size (GSF)11000LocationHirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, United States
Partner-in-ChargeElizabeth Diller
Project LeaderDavid Allin
Project TeamDustin Tobias,William Arbizu,James Brucz,Michael Etzel,Felipe Ferrer,Matthew Ostrow,and Haruka Saito
External credits
Kling Stubbins Associate Architect
Buro HappoldStructural Engineering and Mechanical Engineering
Form TLTensile Structure Engineering
Inauen Schätti AG Rigging Consultant
dyAnaKGClimactic Analysis and Engineering
Tillotson Design Consultants Lighting Designers
Wacker Ingenieure Wind Engineering Consultants
JaffeHoldenAcoustic Consultant
Fisher Dachs AssociatesTheater Planning / Design