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Columbus Museum Extends To Community and the Future

Exterior rendering of the Columbus Museum of Art, will feature a two-story wing
The new $30-million expansion of the Columbus Museum of Art, shown at right, will feature a two-story wing, the second floor cantilevering over the first. The building is connected to the original 1931 structure by a glass-enclosed passageway dubbed the Shard of Light. Columbus Museum of Art

A new expansion of the Columbus Museum of Art will reach out to the surrounding neighborhood with a cantilevered second-story gallery, glass-enclosed entrance, and reimagined outdoor sculpture garden.

August 27, 2013—The new expansion of the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA), a fixture on the cultural landscape of the Ohio capital since it opened in 1931, has been a long time in coming. The $30-million project, which will break ground after Labor Day, is the third phase of work at the museum. Previous phases have seen the renovation of a neighboring building that will house the museum’s administrative offices and the renovation of the original 1931 building.

Planning and conceptualization of the new expansion began in 2005; DesignGroup, the project’s Columbus-based architects, officially came on board in 2010. The project has two broad goals. The first is the complete gutting of an earlier addition to the building, completed in 1974 on the north side of the museum. The “seventies building,” as Keith DeVoe, AIA, LEED AP BD + C, a principal of DesignGroup, puts it, had its day, but functionally and aesthetically, he says, “It’s time to move on. While the structure of the addition is good enough to remain, the current building, says DeVoe, “doesn’t represent the way museums need to work today, either functionally or aesthetically. So the whole vision is to totally rework that portion of the building, reskin it, bring in natural light, bring in more functionality.

DeVoe says the rehab will include the addition of new gallery spaces, a new “entry experience,” and a new special events space. The museum has been “handcuffed over the years because it’s been an old, tired building,” says DeVoe. “It’s finally going to be let loose.”

The seventies building will be consumed by the new renovation; to passersby it will feel like it’s part of the new addition. 

Interior rendering of the Columbus Museum of Art

The light-filled addition will create open gallery space on two floors,
enough space to allow the museum to show more of its collection
and bring in traveling exhibitions. Columbus Museum of Art

The rest of the expansion will be new from the ground up. Occupying the east side of the museum site will be a new gallery wing and a long, glass-enclosed connective space between it and the original 1931 building. Dubbed the Shard of Light, this space will function not only as the new main entrance to the entire complex, but as the central organizing space, leading to all the galleries, a new cafe, a museum store, and a reconfigured sculpture garden.

The two-story wing features cantilevers over the building’s narrow north and south ends and creates, on both its first and second floors, a single open gallery space, with large floor-to-ceiling, south-facing windows. Mechanical and electrical systems will be located on the perimeter of the clear-span space. Curators can install temporary walls when needed. The new space will not only allow CMA to show more of its collection of more than 10,000 objects, it will also allow the center to bring in more traveling exhibitions.

The building is clad in limestone on the first floor and copper and glass on the second, creating what DeVoe calls a dialogue with neighboring buildings, which utilize a combination of materials. The copper overhangs the limestone to help shade first-floor galleries and to prevent staining. The roof of the new addition is fitted with skylights and clerestory windows that provide an accent on the exterior and line up with three interior bridges that cross the Shard of Light and connect the old buildings with the new.

The cantilevered second floor of the new addition uses a one-way posttensioned slab and integral posttensioned main beams, says Joe Noser, P.E., M.ASCE, the project engineer for Columbus-based SMBH, the structural engineering firm for the project. These beams run east-west; each one will end up being a transfer beam as well, he notes, because the columns below them are closer to each other than the columns above—picture a field goal post. While the cantilevers on the long east and west sides of the building are pretty narrow, the cantilever on the narrow north and south faces are much longer—15 and 18 ft respectively.

“We ended up integrating the concrete walls on either side into the floor structure,” Noser says. “We’re using the cantilevered concrete walls as a deep beam that’s supporting the roof above.”

Another exterior render of the limestone and copper clad Columbus Museum of Art

The new addition to the Columbus Museum of Art is clad in both
limestone and copper to create a dialogue with neighboring
buildings. Columbus Museum of Art

The project presents several challenges. For one, the 1970s addition has two stair shafts acting as lateral force-resisting systems. One will be removed to accommodate the renovation; an elevator shaft will replace it. Originally Noser and his colleagues planned to construct an elevator right next to the existing building and essentially just attach it back into the existing floor structure. But that plan became more complicated when changes to the design pushed the elevator shaft inside the building.

This will require a lot of demolition to get through the existing floors. Noser says builders will have to cut the shaft into the existing concrete joist system, removing the floors and create the shaft walls, which will be load bearing, between them. When the formwork goes up, the only way to place the concrete in between the forms is to cut additional openings into the floor above. Holes will have to be cut between the existing joists, and in some cases, bulkheads will have to be carefully positioned—and in some places will protrude past the face of the shaft wall—so that concrete can be maneuvered around the existing joists.

Contractors will also deepen the foundation of the original building to match the foundations of the new building. They will install a new basement right next to where the original building’s shallow footings, requiring significant underpinning beneath the existing footings. When they excavate, workers will remove a portion of the footing on the east side that extends 6 to 12 in. beyond the existing foundation wall.

Finally, SMBH is removing two of the columns in the 1970s building and bridging the sizeable gap that will create with a single column that supports a steel truss above. The truss will be extended to a nearby bearing wall.

The new layout requires the removal of two existing columns in the seventies building. The sizeable gap will be bridged by an existing steel truss above. The truss will be extended to a nearby bearing wall, Noser explains, using new steel elements welded to the existing steel. A steel column will be added near the midpoint of the original span. “Extensive analysis was necessary during design to ensure that the existing steel would not be overstressed by the new configuration,” he says. “Stress reversals and significant shifts in load path made this a highly critical issue.”

The site around the museum is also being reconfigured. A parking lot will be renovated and reduced in size to make way for a relocated sculpture garden. Sewage and site drainage systems will be relocated for the same reason.

“It’s been a bit of a challenge to place a stormwater-detention facility on this site because it’s already previously built out,” says Robert Ferguson, P.E., a project manager for the project’s civil engineers, EMH&T, based in Columbus. “So what we had to do is come up with an underground detention facility that was placed beneath the parking lot. It’s a system of arched underground chambers that are set up in a big grid.”

A system of 119 chambers fabricated from high-density polypropylene arches and sitting on a 6 in. aggregate gravel base was chosen over a single large underground vault because it is cheaper and easier to install. The smaller chambers come in lightweight, roughly 4 by 8 ft sections that can be set in place with no fuss; a larger vault would require a crane.

The museum should be complete in the late summer or early fall of 2015. DeVoe sums up the project this way: it is, he says, “a contemporary but very relevant statement of who the museum is and how the community will engage with the arts moving forward. It’s respectful of the historical 1931 building but very intentional in its expression as an art museum for the future.”



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