Lipstick pistols and surveillance pigeons feature in new International Spy Museum
Washington DC's International Spy Museum recently moved into a new building designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, in collaboration with Hickok Cole. The futuristic-looking museum offers additional space for new exhibits dedicated to the tradecraft, history, and modern role of espionage.
The International Spy Museum is located in Washington DC's L'Enfant Plaza, a short distance from the NMAAHC. The 140,000 sq ft (13,000 sq m) building has more than double the floorspace of the museum's previous home and wouldn't look out of place in a spy movie itself with its eye-catching angled facades, as well as a metal staircase enclosed in glazing that's affixed to the exterior of the building.
"The building reaches the city's height limit of 130 ft [40 m] from grade in just seven stories," says Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. "Its most prominent features are the angled facades of the exhibit floors on the south and west sides of the site, encased in a black box. Propped up on columns over an aligned, existing structure, the black box comprises the bulk of building including its exhibition spaces."
According to the firm, "the museum features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display."
Some of the more notable exhibits and activities include Exquisitely Evil, which is an interactive exhibition celebrating the best 007 villains over the past 50 years.
Operation Spy brings to mind David Adjaye's Spyscape in New York City. It tasks visitors with carrying out fun espionage-themed activities such as breaking into safes.
There are many fascinating historic pieces, too, like this surveillance camera (pictured below) dating back to 1917-18 Germany. It was strapped to a pigeon before it was released over sites of military importance. The idea was that the camera would constantly take photos, offering early drone-like aerial intelligence if the bird made it safely back to base.
Another standout is the Lipstick pistol. According to the museum, it was nicknamed the "Kiss of Death" and given to KGB agents during the cold war. The single-shot weapon was hidden in a purse and was first detected while a spy attempted to cross from East Berlin into West Berlin.
Head to the gallery to see more on these and some other highlights of the International Spy Museum.