by John Sullivan III

The first presentation of the conceptual scheme was well-received, and led the client team to propose that the large cantilevered floor was potentially too attractive not to be used for some of the public area components of the program. It was modified to provide for internal galleries ringed by viewing areas and a visitor lounge. Its subsequent evolution into the Rockwell galleries occurred after it was determined that the separate Asian wing would be postponed. The study galleries in the tower levels were relocated to the top and bottom gallery levels, making their exhibits accessible to visitors when not used as classrooms; the administrative offices took their former space. In conjunction with these usage changes, it was possible to remove one tower level, which helped maintain the budget. The displaced program area was recaptured by filling out areas below grade, expanding beyond the building footprint on the east and west sides.

As scheme became building, a series of modifications occurred to simplify and refine the structure, access, and building services. Options were formulated and compared for cost and value. In a small, spare building every gesture had to be considered for its efficiency and benefits. Although initially each gallery defined its own level, this intriguing and spatially exciting scheme had disadvantages stemming from the complicated structure and massing, with accompanying restricted service and handicapped access, and a probable premium for construction cost. The small change of working only to half-levels of vertical movement enabled us to maintain spatial animation without compromising function or a practical structural system, and facilitated the integration of the mechanical systems.

The pinwheel plan was modified by aligning the cantilevered galleries to structurally link their roofs and reduce the extent of skylight. This expanded the area of the sculpture court and increased the light-protected wall surface in the lobby. Incising the grand stair into the core block enabled the introduction of a bold, sculptural vertical link to the first gallery level without loss of lobby area. The building was positioned on its site so that the pathway in front of Tjaden and Sibley Halls would be on axis with the 9’ wide glass slot running through the lobby and framing the view across to West Hill; a transparency dramatized as the sun sets. The north face of the tall concrete notch in the tower aligns with the Arts Quad entry facades of Tjaden and Sibley, linking the three blocks at the north edge of the Quad. The sculpture court is at approximately the same elevation as East Avenue where the street passes Sibley and Lincoln Halls, a view now veiled by new landscaping. Each of these gestures was made to reinforce the initial idea: shaping a landscaped forecourt to the Museum while retaining a sense of the view beyond.

continues with Extension: The Wing

Originally published in A Handbook of the Collection (Ithaca: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, 1998), 29–40.