Simple, Quiet, Reflective: The New Contemporary Gallery

As you look at the design for our new contemporary art building, you can’t help but be struck by how simple the building is. You aren’t focused on architectural details, but instead you read a simple white, somewhat quiet, structure that softly reflects the world around it.

View of the new North Wing (right) next to the 2001 admissions lobby façade designed by Smith, Miller + Hawkinson.

View of the new contemporary gallery building.

The glass that will make up the exterior of the building is milky white. Each panel is quite large: generally nine feet wide and 18 feet tall. When placed together on the exterior, there will be minimal gaps between the panels so that you read the building as one solid structure. Even the long window walls of the building incorporate a soft frit that helps them blend into the rest of the structure.

The architect, Thomas Phifer,  says  the simplicity of the building’s form focuses the viewer on the materiality or “potency” of glass. You’ll read moments of transparency and moments of reflection. Each moment will reflect and absorb in a different way the light, the buildings and the natural elements surrounding the structure.

The North Wing softly reflects the landscape.

The North Wing softly reflects the landscape.

Another result of the building’s simplicity: the visitor focuses on the works and not the buidling. Phifer describes the building as a vitrine for the extraordinary works on view inside of it (vitrines are the glass-paneled containers that hold so many of the objects in our collection.) He describes the building as a “simple contemporary white cloak that covers the objects.”

Of course, it takes a real focus on detail to achieve simplicity. Recently, our construction project manager visited Thiele Glas, the German company that is fabricating the glass. It’s been important that just the right level of milky white frit be used to create the soft reflective quality the architect is looking to achieve. We’re looking forward to later this spring or early summer when the glass is installed on the exterior.