The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY

WHY’s design for the Speed Museum  – Kentucky’s oldest and largest art institution – encompasses a thorough revitalization of the original 1927 neoclassical building, incorporating two new wings and a sculpture park. Located in relation to the University of Louisville’s Belknap campus and integrated within a network of parks and parkways designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the museum is ideally placed to reach out into the surrounding area. Our approach was inspired by this potential for openness and outreach, designing an intelligent and responsive structure which grows from its environment.

Key info
Design Architect
Executed by WHY Architecture Workshop Inc.
Louisville, KY
  • Completed 2016
  • 200,000 sq. ft.; Site: 3.45 acres
Planner, Design Architect

WHY worked closely with the client to develop a comprehensive strategy for the museum’s physical, curatorial and programmatic development. The traditional, centralized organization of the original building had prevented opportunities for growth – the building was what we would call a “peacock”; an elegant but ultimately uninviting structure, with limited opportunities for inventive programming. Our alternative is what we call the “octopus” – rather than facing inwards, the social “intelligence” of the building is drawn to the exterior, opening multiple points of access which inspire further exploration. By locating public spaces at the periphery of the structure, the museum can flexibly engage in evening events and community activities without having to open the entire building; a formerly static structure becomes a communicative and responsive system, alive to cultural change and welcoming to new audiences.


The experience of working with a historic structure informed our strategy of acupuncture architecture, allowing us to transform the original building while sensitively preserving its historic character. Rather than applying a dramatic, top-down approach, we worked with the museum team to identify a series of carefully localized interventions, addressing each point sequentially to reinvigorate the site and bring a sense of clarity from within. The central grand stair of the original building has been modernized, and the structure has been opened up along its longitudinal axis; natural light and open sightlines connect the different aspects of the program and showcase the scope of activities. Two new additions double the overall square footage of the museum, making space for the museum’s first modern and contemporary galleries and a new auditorium. The site as a whole is activated as part of the museum experience, and the surrounding 3.5 acres of green space is defined by site-specific artworks and opportunities for public programming.

“We wanted to design details which almost seem to disappear – such as the way the metal panel meets the glass, or the continuation of one panel to another. We try to make these moments as simple as possible. The detailing was a challenge, but it’s also one of the most exciting aspects of the project.”

Andrija Stojic
Director of the WHY Buildings Workshop

The most prominent component of the project is the 60,000-square-foot north pavilion, formed by stacking three shifted volumes sheathed in fritted glass and folded aluminum panels. The metal panels are designed to emulate the classical moldings of the original museum building and produce a dynamic change in response to the natural light. To achieve this effect, we produced five modules of zig-zagged panels combined in a random order across the facade. These panels are incorporated into a concealed-fastener rainscreen system, attached to a secondary steel frame and thermal insulation panels.

In addition to folded metal panels, glazing panels in the curtain wall feature a custom dual-coated frit material, mirrored on the outside, and matte on the inside to create a very different experience between the inside and the outside of the building. The staggered gradient pattern of the frit is composed of small half-inch rectangles, dissolving from 99% coverage at the roof line to zero percent at ground level for transparency at eye level. The effect creates a strong transition between the different levels and the exterior and interior of the building, while also creating a sense of porousness between the museum and its environment.

"The new Speed is an inclusive and welcoming environment that will engage visitors of all ages in conversations with each other and with the works of art."

Ghislain d'Humieres
Former Director of Speed Art Museum
Landscape Design
  • Reed Hildergrand
Structural Engineer
  • Thornton Tomasetti
MEP Engineer
  • Stantec (formerly IBE)
Civil Engineer
  • Sabak, Wilson & Lingo
Curtain Wall
  • Thornton Tomasetti
Lighting Design
  • Renfro Design Group
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