Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Smithsonian cancels $15M Hirshhorn Bubble project

WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian Institution canceled plans Wednesday to create an inflatable pavilion bubbling out of the circular Hirshhorn Museum on the National Mall after funding fell short for the $15.5 million project.

The Hirshhorn Bubble was to have been a seasonal venue for performances and arts and cultural programs. It was designed by New York-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

The museum complex said the project was halted after four years of planning and fundraising due to financial uncertainties. Construction was estimated to cost $12.5 million, up from original estimates of $5 million. Much more money would be needed to operate, install and store the structure when it was not in use.

About $7.8 million had been raised or committed for the project, including at least $1 million from Bloomberg L.P. as a naming gift. About $1.5 million had already been spent on planning and design, officials said.

Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s undersecretary for history, art and culture, said most donations had been pledges so far, though some funds had contributed as well. If donors ask for their money back, he said the Smithsonian would return donations.

“Nobody had built something like this before,” Kurin said of the rising costs. “If this was kind of a conventional building … I think it would have been more predictable.”

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough was an early supporter of the bubble project. In a statement Wednesday, he said the museum complex faces significant financial challenges and can’t pursue the project without needed funding.

After the Hirshhorn’s board declined to move forward with the bubble project, Hirshhorn Director Richard Koshalek announced he would resign. He will step down as director on June 29, Kurin said. Koshalek joined the Smithsonian in 2009 and proposed the bubble project. He was previously director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

The Hirshhorn has seen its highest attendance in the past year, Kurin said. One exhibit featured dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

“Richard is very creative, really captures the imagination,” Kurin said. “He’s brought great programs to the Hirshhorn.”