16 December 2009

SLAM expansion is back on !

The David Chipperfield designed addition to the Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park is now back on track.  The 200,000 sf black modernist addition will have its ground-breaking ceremony on Tuesday 19 January 2010.  John D. Weil, president of the Museum's Board of Commissioners commented via press release, "This expansion is our generation's contribution to the future of this great St. Louis institution."

This expansion will increase the museum's gallery and public spaces by 30% and more than double the parking available.  A below ground 300 car parking garage will be located below the addition which will be situated on a landscaped plinth.  The building will feature a fully accessible entrance on its north facade overlooking Fine Arts Drive.

The building cost has been established at $130.5 million.  In addition, a $30.5 million endowment will be provided resulting in a total cost of $161 million dollars.  The museum already has $145 million commitments and will raise the addition funds necessary for the expansion through private philanthropy, foundation support and proceeds from the sale of tax exempt bonds.  While funding from taxes are critical to the museum's operation, no tax monies will be used for the museum expansion.

The building's design follows an open plan, with natural daylighting throughout.  Wings extend out in all directions while the connection points to the existing Cass Gilbert designed structure have been sensitively and deliberately designed to minimize the potential for incompatible, inappropriate disjunctions.  This course is wise, honest and direct.  The earlier addition to the museum designed by Venturi Rauch Scott Brown seemed to have been thoughtfully and deliberately respectful to the original Beaux-Arts structure, however, the lack of a direct visual link above ground created some awkward spatial conditions where the circulation intersects adjacent to the Museum Shop and Cafe.  In addition, their decision to remain detached visually and physically from the original building resulted in a truly ungainly, dysfunctional sculpture court surrounding an array of acrylic skylights.

The new Chipperfield design rightly contrasts sharply with the existing limestone and brick exterior of the original 1904 museum.  It features full height black polished concrete panels that include Missouri stone aggregate as well as full height glazing.  The honesty and directness of approach bodes well for the addition in contrast to the superficially decorated, modulated brick modernist office block the earlier addition ultimately became.

Watching the construction of this new museum addition will be a special opportunity for architecture, construction and art enthusiasts.  The project promises to be a jewel in Forest Park's landscape with its modest scale visually and its injection of new vitality to the areas south and east of Gilbert's historic structure.

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