Glenstone Museum

Architect: Thomas Phifer and Partners

Owner: Glenstone Foundation

Location: Potomac, Maryland

This major expansion of the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, MD, dramatically increases exhibition space for its collection of post-World War II art from around the world. The centerpiece, a 204,000-square-foot building called the Pavilions, is ringed by a dramatically renovated landscape boasting 6,000 new trees and 55 native species, helps advance the museum’s mission of presenting contemporary art in a captivating setting.

Overall, the project increased the museum’s exhibitions space by 50,000 square feet and more than doubled the area of restored woodlands, meadows, and streams. The landscape design was driven by a strategic master plan that increased the accessible land by more than 130 acres and provided a new public entrance, two free-standing cafes, and a center that highlights the sustainable practices deployed at the museum.

The museum itself is organized as a ring of simple masonry forms surrounding a central water court. Ten rooms of varying sizes focus on singular artists while one room houses a survey of works from the museum’s collection.

Natural light is a fundamental element of the design, and nearly all rooms boast clerestories or laylights that provide balanced light from above. One outdoor room opens onto the sky, allowing the play of light and shadow to shift throughout the day. As the seasons change, so too does the light, revealing subtle qualities in the art and providing a nuanced experience for visitors.

Visitors leave their cars in new parking groves before proceeding to an arrival hall where they can orient themselves for their visit. The short walk to the museum begins with a trip over a timber bridge into an expansive meadow with views of outdoor sculptures in the distance. Leading to the main entrance is a curving pathway winds through honey locusts, oaks, and tulip trees, between which glimpses of the new building can be seen. The water court is planted water lilies, irises, and rushes, creating a dynamic landscape that changes throughout the seasons.

With no rush, no crowds, and no admission fee, the museum offers a unique cultural experience. Presenting art and landscape as two unified features, this project ensures that a much larger selection of the museum’s collection will always remain on view.

"The Glenstone Museum is a virtuoso display of design and detail, and a poetic integration of art, architecture and landscape." - Jury comment

Additional information

Arborist: Bartlett Tree Experts

Office Interiors: Stantec Architecture

AV/IT Consultant: CallisonRTKL

Café Creative Direction:  HFB STUDIO

Civil Engineering: VIKA, Inc.

Code Review: PFP Engineering and Design, Inc.

Concrete Consultant: Reginold D. Hough Associates

Cost Estimator: Stuart-Lynn Company, Inc.

Ecologist: Jeffrey Wolinkski

Elevators: Hector Columbani Associates, LLC

Façade Design: R.A. Heintges & Associates

Food Services: JGL Food Service Consultants

General Contractor, Environmental Center:  Whitener and Jackson, Inc.

Geotechnical Engineering: Schnabel Engineering DC

Graphic Design: 2x4

Irrigation: Sweeney & Associates

Landscape Architecture Consultant: PWP Landscape Architecture

M/E/P/FP Engineering: Altieri Sebor Wieber LLC  

M/E/P/FP Engineering, Patio: KTA Group, Inc

Master Mason: Philip Dolphin

Meadow Consultant: Larry Weaner Landscape Associates Natural

Lighting Design: ARUP New York and London Offices

Owner’s Representative: MGAC

Security Consultant: Layne Consultants International

Soil Scientist: Pine & Swallow Environmental

Specifications: Construction Specifications, Inc.

Stream Restoration Construction: Aquatic Resource Restoration Company

Structural Engineering: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP

Sustainability: Buro Happold

Water Court / Constructed Wetland Engineering: Biohabitats

Waterproofing: Henshell and Buccellato


Samuel M. Miller, FAIA (Chair), LMN, Seattle, Washington

Merrill Elam, AIA, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Atlanta, Georgia

Rebecca Sharkey, AIA, EHDD, San Francisco, California

Dale Frens, AIA, patterhn ives, llc, West Chester, Pennsylvania

Michael Johns, FAIA, NOMA, Mdesigns + MWJ Consulting LLC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Michelle Acosta, AIA, SmithGroupJJR, Gilbert, Arizona

Trinity Simons, Mayor's Institute on City Design, Washington, District of Columbia

Kevin Alter, Assoc. AIA, Alterstudio Architecture, Austin, Texas

Caleb Bertels, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Image credits

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Iwan Baan

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Iwan Baan

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Iwan Baan

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Iwan Baan

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Iwan Baan