In 1959, the Blisses commissioned the architect Philip Johnson to design a pavilion for the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Colombian Art. This building—eight domed circular galleries (having an unroofed fountain area at the center) set within a perfect square—recalls Islamic architectural ideas, and Johnson later credited the design to his interest in the early 16th
Century Turkish architect, Mimar Sinan. The pavilion was built in the Bosque (or copse), one of the designed landscapes at Dumbarton Oaks, and Johnson employed curved glass walls to blend the landscape with the building. He later reminisced that his idea was to fit a small pavilion into an existing treescape, to make the building become part of the Bosque. Johnson maintained that he wanted the garden to march right up to the museum displays and become part of them, with the plantings brushing the glass walls and the sound of splashing water audible in the central fountain. Furthering this idea, Mildred Bliss suggested creating four interior glazed planter areas situated between the galleries and the fountain.
Johnson also believed that the pavilion was to be best enjoyed from the inside.
In addition to offering interesting garden views, the eight gallery spaces allow for a well-organized circulation plan. They also provide intimate areas for visitors to enjoy and study the Pre-Columbian objects.
Each interconnected exhibition gallery is 25 feet in diameter, having curved glass walls supported by cylindrical columns sheathed in Illinois Agatan marble and shallow domes that rise from flat bronze rings. The floors are teak, laid from the center out in radii, and ended by wide rims of mottled green Vermont marble.