International Spy Museum wins steel award

01 April 2022

The International Spy Museum    was one of nine projects across America to win a 2022 AISC IDEAS² Award - the steel industry's top design honour.

Sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) the Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel (IDEAS²) Award program recognises projects that illustrate the exciting possibilities of building with structural steel.

Since the 1960s, the AISC’s award programs have celebrated landmark structures in recognition of their impact in terms of structural innovation, advances in safety, benefits to the local community, and environmental consciousness.

The International Spy Museum forms part of RSHP’s master plan for L’Enfant Plaza in Washington DC and creates a new home for the privately-owned Spy Museum.

The museum is built on top of an existing podium, it therefore had to be both lightweight and work with the existing structural grid.

A lightweight steel frame meant that the building could be supported on the existing podium columns, reinforced with structural ‘jackets’. The frame also offered the opportunity to create a 55½ foot wide column free space in the exhibition and event spaces, making them more easily adaptable for short and long-term use.

The inclined façade of the ‘black-box’ was in part developed as there were no landing points for a structure beyond the existing building line. The sloped red columns that facilitated this are a key feature of the building, instantly recognisable from a distance. At over 70 feet tall, they needed to be brought to site in 2 pieces and joined together in situ.

The ‘veil’ facade features jumbo-sized laminated glass panels that measure up to 18½ feet tall, but despite this have no vertical mullions. Instead, they rely on the inherent stability of the ‘veil’s’ tessellated form and are ‘stitched’ together, allowing the laminated glass to be less than an inch thick. 

Horizontal transoms and a series of Y-braces transfer wind-load back to the main structure, while the whole system (along with the stair) is hung above the sidewalk from the inclined red columns.