Grand Rapids Art Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan
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.
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.”
"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."