Plastic surgery for the old Rock Records building: Will structure become a sustainable--and snazzy--$45 million medical museum?

December 1, 2010

A Chicago foundation is seeking to raise $45 million to convert the former downtown home of Rock Records into a flashy state-of-the-art outpost of Washington D.C.'s venerable National Museum of Health and Medicine--and has hired Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture to handle the transformation.

The Buonacorsi Foundation and the newly-created National Museum of Health + Medicine Chicago are raising funds to turn the empty building at 175 W. Washington into a centralized home for the data archives, digital collections and other items from the Washington Museum. The building would also feature public exhibits and would house some research facilities, according to an online brochure published by the foundation. As part of the conversion, a marquee-like facade--on which moving images and other programming could be projected--would wrap around the 80-year-old modest three-story building. The marquee would be powered by the energy generated from visitors engaging and passing through the interactive exhibits inside, said Kevin Nance, spokesperson for Smith + Gill Architecture.

"When the museum is lightly populated, the marquee will exude a quiet energy," he said. "At peak times it will visibly flicker and pulse from the physical presence of the building occupants." The original facade would be visible through the wrapper, however. Interior spaces would be "playful, fluid, sculpted" the brochure said. You can see images in brochure link above. A rooftop cafe, administrative offices and an auditorium are also planned, according to the foundation. Here's what the building looks like now:

Located on the Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus, the National Museum of Health and Medicine was founded in 1862 as the Army Medical Museum. In addition to its digital and research archives, the museum holds an astounding collection of artifacts, medical tools, anatomical specimens, photographs and more. The collection includes Paul Revere's dental tools; a giant hairball removed from a stomach of a 12-year-old girl who had  been eating her own hair since she was six; and the bone fragments of Abraham Lincoln.

The Chicago museum would be completed in 2014, according to the Buonacorsi Foundation brochure. The organization is in the process of raising $5 million now with an additional $40 million to come later in order to finish the project.

An effort is underway to create a central repository for The National Museum of Health and Medicine's digital collections, data archives and related computational resources at a new satellite location in Chicago. The National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago will function as a bridge between the physical and virtual realms, featuring interactive exhibits where visitors can explore biomedical information in new ways and will act as a home for a team of information scientists who will advance the museum's research initiatives.