Wadsworth Atheneum Of Art

by | 09. Nov 2012

Cultural | Feature

Image Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art


Image Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art recently unveiled the schematic design for a major expansion and renovation led by architect Ben van Berkel of UNStudio, Amsterdam with Sylvia Smith, of Fox & Fowle Architects, as executive architect.  The museum’s enveloping urban landscape will be transformed by artist/architect  Maya Lin.

Founded in 1842, the Wadsworth Atheneum is the oldest public art museum in the U.S., and its collection and history are distinguished.  Despite an impressive legacy of commissioning architecture that is an expression of its time, the Wadsworth Atheneum’s current campus is confusing to navigate.

The innovative design by UNStudio respects the museum’s historic structures while introducing a new light-filled public gathering space that will make the museum more accessible, and will provide new and improved gallery space to showcase its renowned collections.

The museum’s five contiguous buildings were constructed over 127 years, from 1842 to 1969.  The architects’ plan calls for removing the 1969 Goodwin building, which occupies a seventy-foot span between the 1842 Wadsworth building and 1934 Avery building on the museum’s north side, and Gengras Court, an open-air courtyard at the center of the museum campus.

Upon entering the museum, visitors will find themselves in a public square, vibrant with light and people, with visual connections to the art in the galleries.  The double helix of slowly spiralling ramps will generate a gradual transition from the first-floor public square to the galleries.
/Ben van Berkel

Image Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art


Image Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art


Image Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art


Image Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

A new structure will be introduced that will extend into the Wadsworth and Colt building interiors (which were gutted in the 1965-69 renovation), and cohere to the historic interiors of the Beaux Art style Morgan Memorial (1910-1915) and the International Style Avery Memorial (1934).

The museum’s main entrance will move from Main Street to the new building on Atheneum Square North and will be transparent at street level to entice the passersby.  The new entrance will span the breadth of the old Goodwin faade and lead into a welcoming public concourse that gently descends to the museum cafe and an outdoor terrace overlooking Burr Mall to the south.

Once inside, the visitor’s orientation to the museum is dramatically enhanced by sight lines that visually link the public concourse and the galleries.  The visitor is given a glimpse of the art that lies ahead.  Rising from the concourse are two gracefully stepped ramp ways that connect the buildings and direct the visitor to each successive level throughout the museum.

This architecturally integrated circulation system is supported by a cone-shaped cable system that doubles as a light well, filtering light from above through the tiers of the new structure and onto the concourse below.


Image Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art


Image Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art Ground breaking is scheduled for  the first quarter of 2004.   UNStudio

Both ramp ways and elevators arrive at the upper levels of the new buildings, which features an 8,400 square foot gallery for temporary loan exhibitions, and a 6,300 square foot gallery for contemporary art.  These galleries are column-free and will use flexible wall systems to accommodate changing installations.

The new building will be clad in a perforated metal designed to flow seamlessly from the north faade to an asymmetrical roof.  Translucent in part, the new roof is faceted to reflect the skylights and rooftops of the existing historic buildings.  At night, lit from within, portions of the building will appear to glow.  The faade and flooring of the new building will be light-hued, in harmony with the rough-hewn granite exterior of the Wadsworth building and smooth limestone of the Avery Memorial.

The Wadsworth Atheneum, the USA’s oldest public museum, has slowly grown over time, resulting in a maze of unconnected, small rooms. The design for the renovation and extension increases gallery space and improves the traffic flow. The rigid grids of the existing buildings are interwoven with a fluid circulation system which revolves around the central hollow core.

The addition of 1969 is replaced with a central distributor space which gives access to the separate buildings, whilst accommodating for their differing floor heights. It creates a new, transparent entrance, actively inviting people in and increases gallery space by a third. At the new entrance, an enclosed glass-walled concourse spans the entire museum. A cone-shaped opening, woven in fine metal mesh, descends from the rooftop to provide light.


CITY Hartford, Connecticut