Press Releases June 5, 2023

Perkins&Will Selected to Design Smithsonian Institution’s Bezos Learning Center

  • The Smithsonian awarded Perkins&Will the project from among five shortlisted firms.
  • The Center will deliver STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) education in innovative ways while prioritizing access to underserved communities.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Global architecture firm Perkins&Will has been selected to design the Bezos Learning Center at one of the Smithsonian’s most visited institutions, the National Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian selected Perkins&Will from among five shortlisted firms based on the architects’ ample experience designing cultural and education spaces, the composition and credentials of its management team, and the strength of the team’s aesthetic approach. The team’s conceptual approach and vision were inspired by the shape of a spiral galaxy. Facing the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Learning Center will aim to enrich the imagination of students and other groups through learning and exhibition spaces, a public observatory, and a restaurant.

“The spiral galaxy—our source of creative inspiration—is all about infinite possibilities,” says Ralph Johnson, design director for Perkins&Will and lead designer for the Bezos Learning Center conceptual approach and vision. “We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the Smithsonian Institution, the National Air and Space Museum, and other key stakeholders to create a design that will inspire the next generation of air and space explorers while honoring the historical context of our National Mall.”

Johnson’s award-winning cultural work includes Shanghai Natural History Museum, Suzhou Science and Technology Museum, and Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

The image you see here represents Perkins&Will's proposed approach, only; it is NOT the final design or site map of the Bezos Learning Center.

A Place for Exploration

The Bezos Learning Center at the National Air and Space Museum will invite learners to explore the universe and aviation through multi-day experiences in non-traditional classrooms, collaboration hubs, and a studio—all of which support immersive STEAM learning. From the center’s prominent location on the National Mall, learners and classroom educators will enjoy workshops and design challenges, and their work will be showcased in dedicated display areas.

“As one of the largest and most visited aerospace museums in the world, the National Air and Space Museum influences millions of visitors every year,” says Bridget Lesniak, managing principal at Perkins&Will. “The Bezos Learning Center represents the next major evolution of the museum’s mission, continuing a journey set in motion by the Wright Brothers almost 120 years ago. This is an exceptional opportunity to create a place that unlocks the potential of a new generation of explorers.”

Student Architecture and Design Challenge

The National Air and Space Museum is also offering design students and early-career architects an opportunity to work with Perkins&Will on the project. Together, they will create an architectural element for the future building’s exterior that conceptualizes scientific aviation, astronomy, or aerospace. Teams of two to three eligible participants were invited to participate in Phase 1 of the challenge, which concluded on April 18, 2023. Shortlisted teams were then invited to participate in Phase 2, the final stage of the challenge. Once selected later this year, the final winning team will be invited to join the Bezos Learning Center building project team and receive a paid position with the National Air and Space Museum for up to three years.

“We are inspired by clients who are intentional about outreach to underserved communities,” says Zena Howard, chair of Perkins&Will’s cultural and civic practice and one of the project’s lead principals. Howard was also the senior project manager for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., designed by the architectural consortium known as Freelon Adjaye Bond SmithGroup. (In 2014, The Freelon Group merged with Perkins&Will.)

“When major organizations like the Smithsonian Institution prioritize equity in design and programming, they expand opportunities for innovation that benefit all of us. This level of care resonates with the core values of our practice and work over many decades.”

Design Team

  • Ralph Johnson – Lead Designer
  • Tom Mozina – Designer
  • Bridget Lesniak – Managing Principal
  • Zena Howard – Project Principal
  • Aimee Eckmann – Education Programming and Planning Specialist
  • Kristin Rosebrough – Senior Project Architect

About Perkins&Will
Perkins&Will is an interdisciplinary, research-based architecture and design firm founded in 1935 on the belief that design has the power to transform lives. Guided by its core values—design excellence, diversity and inclusion, living design, research, resilience, social purpose, sustainability, and well-being—the firm is committed to designing a better, more beautiful world.

The firm’s cultural work spans the globe and includes the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., Destination Crenshaw in Los Angeles (the first phase is scheduled to open early next year), and the Shanghai Natural History Museum. In April 2023, Perkins&Will was also selected as one of five finalists in a nationwide competition to propose artistic ideas that will inspire a new home for the National Museum of the U.S. Navy.

Architizer named Perkins&Will the world’s “Best Sustainable Firm” in 2023 and Metropolis named it “Firm of the Year” in 2022 for its industry leadership in advancing climate action and social justice. Fast Company named Perkins&Will one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies in Architecture three times, and in 2021, it added the firm to its list of Brands That Matter—making Perkins&Will the only architecture practice in the world to earn the distinction. With an international team of more than 2,000 professionals, the firm has over 20 studios worldwide, providing integrated services in architecture, interior design, branded environments, urban design, and landscape architecture. Industry rankings consistently place the firm among the world’s top design practices.