The Freer Courtyard

Sketch of the dimensions of the Freer Courtyard, on stationary from The Plaza in New York. Reads, "Block plan of two story Building for the Freer collections Study and storage in basement" and "Blueprint sent Dr. Walcott on April 26
During a meeting in New York City with the museum’s architect, Charles Platt, Charles Lang Freer sketched a rough floor plan for the future home of the Freer Gallery of Art.
Charles Lang Freer Papers. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of the estate of Charles Lang Freer.

Charles Lang Freer worked closely with architect Charles Adams Platt on the design of his gallery. Freer especially loved buildings with open courtyards, like those he had seen on his first tour of Italy when he followed an itinerary based on Platt’s illustrated book Italian Gardens. In 1908, Freer sketched plans for his museum as spacious rooms organized around an open garden. In 1912, Platt was hired to make that design a reality.

Black and white photo of a peacock in the Freer Courtyard
Starting in 1923, the National Zoo loaned the Freer Gallery of Art three peacocks to live in the courtyard during the summer.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 02-082, Box 1, Folder: Photographs, Peacocks.

When the building opened to the public in 1923, the courtyard was home to a group of live peacocks and was frequently noted as one of the most delightful features of the museum. New York art critic Royal Cortissoz observed that the open central space “brought into the scheme precious elements of light, air, and color” and “did away with the frigidity so characteristic of museums.” We hope that this tranquil garden provides the same sense of relaxation for you on your next visit to the museum.

Courtyard Accessibility Project

Throughout 2022

Ahead of our centennial celebration in 2023, the museum is undertaking an ongoing phased construction effort. This project will improve the accessibility of our courtyard to allow all visitors access to the entire space.

What’s happening during the renovation?

This Smithsonian-funded, multimillion-dollar renovation project will:

  • Remove existing exterior courtyard paving, landscaping, lighting, and irrigation system
  • Replace all exterior waterproofing on the existing concrete structural slab that supports the courtyard
  • Install a new sloping walkway made of Tennessee rose grey marble and Milford pink granite that will provide ADA-compliant access from the west side loggia to the lower-level courtyard
  • Replace damaged east and west loggia terrazzo floor surfaces
  • Clean and repair exterior stonework, repair mortar joints and flashing, and repair or replace damaged or misaligned stonework on courtyard exterior building surfaces
  • Reinstall brick paving and granite pavers in the lower courtyard
  • Replace the soil planting beds and install all new landscaping and irrigation system
  • Upgrade courtyard exterior power distribution and lighting

Renovation in Progress

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