Perkins Eastman | National Museum of the American Indian at Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House

National Museum of the American Indian at Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House

New York, New York
Nothing could offer a greater contrast than the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House and the George Gustav Heye Center, a satellite of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.

One of the key requirements of the preservation effort was to keep the interior of the custom house intact and to design an independent domain and distinct identity for the Museum. Because Indian culture is non-linear, circulation was created to lead visitors on a circuitous path through the galleries circling the rotunda, returning them physically and intellectually to their starting point. Making a symbolic transition from the old world to the new, the scale was gradually reduced, allowing the introduction of softer materials, including stone and natural wood, and the muting of the color palette. Where original details proved compatible with modern use, the design team retained them: locating the media center’s computer terminals behind the grillwork of the old cashiers’ cages and turning the custom collector’s private office into a coatroom.

The team located the museum on three floors of the custom house: the second providing 20,000 sf of exhibition and public space, including a museum shop; the first, staff offices, a school group orientation space, and another shop; and the basement serving the museum’s storage and mechanical needs. The latter were considerable—the museum’s objects require close temperature and humidity tolerances, for which we installed a dedicated system. An extensive fiber-optic communications network was also laid, concealed within the floors, walls, and ceiling.

This project was completed by the Principals and staff of EE&K prior to merging with Perkins Eastman.