Transluscent light boxes transform museum landscape
Steven Holl Architects winning expansion of The Nelson Atkins Museum of Arts is composed of five interconnected structures as opposed to a single massive expansion. It fuses architecture with landscape to create an experiential architecture that unfolds for visitors as it is perceived through each individual’s movement through space and time.
The new addition, named the Bloch Building, extends along the eastern edge of the campus, and is distinguished by five glass lenses, traversing from the existing building through the Sculpture Park to form new spaces and angles of vision.
The lenses’ multiple layers of translucent glass gather, diffuse and refract light, at times materializing light like blocks of ice. During the day the lenses inject varying qualities of light into the galleries, while at night the sculpture garden glows with their internal light.
The “meandering path” threaded between the lenses in the Sculpture Park has its sinuous complement in the open flow through the continuous level of galleries below.
The galleries, organized in sequence to support the progression of the collections, gradually step down into the Park, and are punctuated by views into the landscape.
The design for the new addition utilizes sustainable building concepts; the sculpture garden continues up and over the gallery roofs, creating sculpture courts between the lenses, while also providing green roofs to achieve high insulation and control storm water.
At the heart of the addition’s lenses is a structural concept merged with a light and air distributor concept: "Breathing T's” transport light down into the galleries along their curved undersides while carrying the glass in suspension and providing a location for HVAC ducts. The double-glass cavities of the lenses gather sun-heated air in winter or exhaust it in summer. Optimum light levels for all types of art or media installations and seasonal flexibility requirements are ensured through the use of computercontrolled screens and of special translucent insulating material embedded in the glass cavities. A continuous service level basement below the galleries offers art delivery, storage and handling spaces, as well as flexible access to the "Breathing-Ts."
Steven Holl Architect's Nelson-Atkins Museum Of Art project won the practice one of two awards received at the Chicago Athenaeum 2008 American Architecture Awards.