MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON
Thursday 15 Dec 2011
The fifty-three galleries in the new Art of the Americas Wing are arranged chronologically over four levels, rising from Native American and seventeenth-century works to modern art on the top floor.
From the outset, the design of the gallery spaces allowed for flexibility: services could be moved to accommodate large objects; or a glazed panel in the facade aligned with the window of a period room installation. The resulting interiors are uncompromising in their detail, responsive to the works on display. A niche in the ceiling of a first floor gallery, for example, allows one of the largest and most significant paintings - The Passage of the Delaware by Thomas Sully - to be seen in the context of the Americas collection for the first time.
The design team worked closely with the curators for each period. Paint shades were selected for to give a historical context and wall coverings painstakingly sourced and reproduced. The gallery spaces are unified by the use of red oak floors and white ceilings with integrated lighting tracks. The project also involved the design of display cases and plinths for around 5,000 works from the collection. With items ranging in scale from coins and jewellery to statues and model battleships, a kit-of-parts system of cases was developed, using a low-iron glass to reduce reflections. Rejecting the typical gallery clutter, integrated security barriers and plain leather benches allow attention to be focused on the works of art.
Boston's climate had an impact on the gallery interiors and the integration of services. In winter, when temperatures can fall to minus 20 degrees, the challenge was to balance the desire to introduce daylight with maintaining optimum temperature and humidity levels. The skylights and windows incorporate a ventilation cavity to counter condensation; and mechanical heating and ventilation systems are concealed within the thick spine walls. Air is supplied from discreet high-level vents and extracted close to the floor, promoting a cycle that helps to prevent the build-up of dust. Working together, the building's design and environmental systems allow the collection to be seen in the best possible conditions.
Foster + Partners