Sharon McHugh looks at Grimshaw's Queens Museum ahead of November opening
At a ribbon cutting ceremony for Queens Museum held 30 October attended by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Museum Director Tom Finklepearl, museum leadership and city officials, the public got its first peek at the newly completed museum.
Newly branded as Queens Museum, dropping Art from its name earlier this year, the building is an essay to 'openness', the museum’s one word mission statement which is adopted to signify it has a new game plan to diversify its public offerings in a newly minted building that been transformed to capitalize on historical assets.
Those assets include: the museum building itself, a beautiful Art Moderne structure originally designed as the New York City Building for the1939 World‘s Fair; the famous Panorama of New York model housed there, a 9,335 sq ft architectural model of the NYC that is the largest in the world; and the museum’s bucolic setting in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, New York. It is also home to the Unisphere, a 12-story high, spherical stainless steel representation of the Earth that is one of the few surviving artifacts of the Fair among other cultural and sports venues.
These attractions, while unique within the city, have not been enough to bring large numbers of visitors to the museum. The hope is that with broader-reaching programmes planned, such as art courses, classes for kids and a new 5,000 sq ft public library, plus a newly renovated building, the museum will be a magnet of activity.
The $69m transformation adds 50,000 sq ft of new galleries, classrooms, public event spaces, a cafe and a museum shop. Taking its cue from the museum’s mission statement, Grimshaw set out to design a building that was open in many ways.
“Our scheme embodies the museum’s overarching philosophy of openness and community outreach by increasing the visibility of the museum from Grand Central Parkway, improving circulation of the entire museum and adding existing gallery space for changing exhibits,” said Mark Husser, Managing Partner of Grimshaw’s New York studio.
In making the transformation, Grimshaw approached the project as a series of interventions that would take advantage of the existing building's historical assets. To open up the building to the community and increase its presence on Grand Central Parkway, the team reworked the main entrance on the west, creating a new ceremonial entry plaza, ennobling the entrance with a new sculptural metal canopy, and opening up the building’s facade with a 2,100 x 27ft glass wall that gives the building a new transparency that allows visitors to see into and through the building to the park beyond.
Inside the building, Grimshaw convincingly united a space that had two different architectural qualities. One half of the building was a soaring volume that was formerly an ice skating rink. The other half was a large enclosed area where the Parorama of New York model was housed. Taking advantage of the soaring ceiling heights where the rink once was, Grimshaw created the new galleries. In the center of the space they installed a large skylight with a hanging lantern, both functional and artistic, that brings light into the once-dark space whilst directing filtered, museum-quality light into a suite of six surrounding galleries.
In the space occupied by the Panorama model, Grimshaw transformed the large enclosed space, creating a large view window into the space that allows visitors to see what many consider to be the museum’s star attraction immediately upon entering the building. A glass museum shop and a fluid glass staircase with dramatic cantilevers that connect to a second storey glass bridge facing the park, designed by Grimshaw’s industrial design unit, completes the space.
“Our one word mission statement is 'openness'”, said Tom Finkelpearl, Executive Director of Queens Museum. “I think that Grimshaw, the fabulous architects who have done this renovation, have expressed the openness in this space - open to ideas, open to the future of art, contemporary art, plus open to the community and open to the sky”.
The Museum opens 9 November 2013.