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Tacoma Art Museum Expands With New Entry, Gallery
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Exterior rendering of the Tacoma Art Museum
The Tacoma Art Museum’s new entryway canopy will feature aluminum grating and stainless steel panels, some of which will be reclaimed from select portions of the existing building that must be demolished to make way for the new addition. Olson Kundig Architects

In designing a new entryway and gallery wing for the Tacoma Art Museum, architects drew inspiration from the existing building as well as local history. As a result, the new elements are integrated, yet distinct.

November 26, 2013—When it comes to designing building additions, the challenge often lies in integrating the new elements with the existing structure. Architects overcame that challenge when designing the new entry plaza and gallery wing for Tacoma Art Museum, in Tacoma, Washington, by drawing inspiration from the existing museum as well as local history.

In 2003, Tacoma Art Museum moved to its current facility, designed by New Mexico-based architect Antoine Predock and located in the city’s downtown museum district. Six years later, it held a nationwide design competition for a new entry plaza that would increase the museum’s visibility, improve circulation into the lobby, and engage the city while complementing the existing museum structure. Museum officials reviewed dozens of concept designs, ultimately selecting a proposal from Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects for a large canopy over the museum’s entrance.

The following year, German billionaires Erivan and Helga Haub donated 280 works of Western American art to the museum, which is dedicated to displaying works by artists from the Pacific Northwest. The Haubs also provided funding to construct a new addition to accommodate the artwork. As a result, the museum expanded Olson Kundig Architects’ scope of work to include the design of a new 18,000 sq ft gallery wing, increasing the museum’s exhibition space by 50 percent. As with the entryway, museum officials and their constituents wanted the addition to enhance the museum without detracting from its original design, said Tom Kundig, AIA, a principal and owner of Olson Kundig Architects, in written responses to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. 

 The museum’s gallery wing addition adjoins the existing building beneath a new entryway canopy

 The museum’s gallery wing addition adjoins the existing building
beneath a new entryway canopy.
Olson Kundig Architects

As they set out to meet those goals, the architects had to keep in mind not only how the new entryway and gallery wing would interface with the existing building but also how they would work together. Inspired by the museum’s original design, the canopy will be framed in steel and feature aluminum grating and stainless steel panels, some of which will be reclaimed from select portions of the existing building that must be demolished to make way for the project. The canopy will extend from the three-story-tall museum’s roofline and over its front facade to create a gathering place and distinct marker to the museum’s main entrance. It will also help define the museum’s entry plaza, which will include sculptural works and other interactive features. “The [entryway] canopy is an extension of the existing building,” Kundig said.

A second, shorter canopy will extend along the front of the new gallery wing, providing shelter from the elements as visitors approach the museum’s main entrance. The new wing will be just two stories tall and will integrate with the existing museum beneath the entryway canopy. The wing will encompass 6,000 sq ft of new gallery space, 3,000 sq ft of new lobby space, and 9,000 sq ft of new back-of-house space. In contrast to the existing museum’s steel cladding, the addition will be covered in dark-toned panels manufactured by a local Tacoma company. The panels will comprise recycled paper and phenolic resin. “This tough and no-nonsense material references Tacoma’s industrial and lumber production industries,” Kundig said.

Unlike many art museums, the new lobby and gallery wing will also feature a great deal of glass to allow views in and out of the building. The gallery widows will be fitted with large exterior screens to help control the amount of light that enters the galleries and create interest between light and shadows. The screens will be movable, rolling back and forth on wheels that are designed to recall the doors and wheels of rail cars—the railroad being a prominent part of Tacoma’s history, Kundig said. “Many museums conceal art behind solid walls,” he noted. “This addition displays the art and the life of the museum while still controlling light, temperature, and humidity for the display of sensitive works.”

Construction of the new entry and gallery wing began in early November and completion is anticipated in 2014. Kundig said the project represents a great example of turning a challenge into an opportunity. The end result, he said, is an addition that complements the existing museum but yet retains its own identity. “This project is about creating a community building that changes and morphs [along] with curated exhibits that invite the public inside the museum,” Kundig said. “We hope visitors discover something new each time they visit.”


 

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