The East Building opened in 1978 in response to the changing needs of the National Gallery, especially to house a growing collection of modern art. It's currently undergoing a three-year renovation that will add an additional 12,260 square feet of exhibit space and an outdoor sculpture terrace overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. For the most up to date information on the project, refer to the gallery's website, www.nga.gov/renovation.
Even though the East Building galleries are closed, you can still admire its unique structure—the trapezoidal shape of the site prompted architect I.M. Pei's dramatic approach: two interlocking spaces shaped like triangles provide room for galleries, auditoriums, and administrative offices. Despite its severe angularity, Pei's building is inviting. The ax-blade-like southwest corner has been darkened and polished smooth by thousands of hands irresistibly drawn to it. Inside, the sunlit atrium is dominated by a colorful 76-foot-long Alexander Calder mobile, the perfect introduction to galleries that will again with filled with masterworks of modern and contemporary art when the renovation project is completed.