The Smithsonian received a $200 million donation from Jeff Bezos, founder and executive chair of Amazon, and founder of aerospace and space flight company Blue Origin. The donation is the largest gift to the Smithsonian since the Institution’s founding gift from James Smithson in 1846. A $70 million portion of the donation will support the renovation of the National Air and Space Museum and $130 million will launch a new education center at the museum.

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Architect for the Bezos Learning Center

The Smithsonian has chosen the architectural firm Perkins&Will to design the Bezos Learning Center. Perkins&Will, which was founded in 1935 in Chicago, was selected because of its project experience, past performance and management approach. 

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National Historic Preservation Act

The National Air and Space Museum is a contributing resource to the National Mall Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and this project is subject to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Smithsonian Institution will conduct a series of public meetings as design progresses concerning Section 106 consultation. 

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Student Architecture and Design Challenge

Graphic promoting the Student Architecture and Design Challenge.

About the Challenge

Undergraduate and graduate architecture and design students and early-career architects are invited to participate in a design challenge in which teams of two to three participate to design an architectural element for the exterior structure of the Museum’s upcoming Bezos Learning Center building. The winning team will receive a one-to-three-year paid position.  

Full Rules and Requirements

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This is a team challenge and all entries must be comprised of teams of two or three people. Teams can consist of a mixture of design and/or architecture students, recent graduates, and professionals with experience of 5 years or less. 

Take an eligibility quiz.

Challenge Phases

Phase Two: Design Sprint 

Select teams will be invited to participate in a 60-day design sprint to design an architectural element for the exterior structure of the Bezos Learning Center. Beginning May 16, 2023, and ending August 9, 2023.

Applicant Information

Each team's application for the Bezos Learning Center Student Architecture and Design Challenge must include:

  • Team Member Information: Academic and internship experience for each team member
  • Essay 1: Understanding that museums and cultural institutions are intended to welcome folks from all walks of life, with all sorts of backgrounds, including those that are local and from across the world, what role does the design and architecture of a museum or cultural institution play in embracing visitors? (up to 500 words)
  • Essay 2: How have museums or cultural institutions influenced each team member’s motivation to pursue a career in architecture and design? (up to 500 words)
  • Sample Submission: A sample of the team’s work that visually communicates the team’s desired aesthetic. It should illustrate team cohesion and vision and indicate relevance to a museum environment. It should be 2-dimensional, limited to four pages/slides and accessible without specialized software or hardware. Descriptive text can accompany the images, so long as the total submission does not exceed the page/slide total. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. If one team member was born and raised in Washington D.C., but other team members are originally from other places, and all team members attend school outside the Washington D.C. area, would the team be a good fit for the challenge? 
A. Take the eligibility quiz to see if your team is a good fit.

Q. If a team decides to complete a Phase 1 application, does the jury want the collective portfolio we submit to match the aesthetic of the "Possible Design Firms" designs, or is having a distinct aesthetic fine if it shows the team is competent enough to represent their work clearly? 
A. Applicant entries do not need to relate to the ‘Possible Design Firms’ listed below the Challenge information. Successfully illustrating a desired aesthetic is expected.

Q. What is the jury is looking for, to advance to the next phase? 
A. The Phase 1 application will be live on January 3, 2023. The application will include specific elements applying teams will need to address to be considered for Phase 2.

Q. If a team advances to Phase 2, what exactly is an "architectural element?" Is there a definition or example to reference?
A. Details about the ‘architectural element,’ and the associated criteria, can be found in both the Phase 2 and Selection of Winning Teams sections of the Full Rules and Requirements found on the web page. Additional details will be provided to the teams that reach Phase 2 of the challenge.

Q. Is the winning team expected to be available to work full time in DC for one to three years at the conclusion of the challenge? Or is there a different option for applicants still in school? 
A. The one-to-three-year paid positions on the Bezos Learning Center build team are intended to be in Washington, DC. The Museum can provide a certain amount of flexibility, if needed.

Q: Who will have intellectual property rights of winning project and entry material? 
A: The Smithsonian will own all designs and have worldwide rights. 
This follows clause 252.227-7022 of Smithsonian design contracts, which states “The Government shall have unlimited rights, in all drawings, designs, specifications, notes and other works developed in the performance of this contract, including the right to use same on any other Government design or construction without additional compensation to the Contractor. The Contractor hereby grants to the government a paid-up license throughout the world to all such works to which he may assert or establish any claim under design patent or copyright laws. The Contractor for a period of three (3) years after completion of the project agrees to furnish the original or copies of all such works on the request of the Contracting Officer.”

Q: Will Smithsonian retain ownership of all entries?
A: Smithsonian will retain ownership of the selected design only.

Q: Will selected teams be compensated for time spent during the design sprint?
A: Team selected for Phase 2 will not be compensated for time spent on their submission.

Q: Does the design sample submitted in Phase 1 need to be specific to the Bezos Learning Center or previous projects related to the museum environment?
A: The sample only needs to communicate the team’s overall design aesthetic, in general, it does not need to be a bespoke example for the Bezos Learning Center. That will come in Phase 2, for those teams that are selected to move on.