Clark Art Institute unveils plans for new extension by Tadao Ando

The Clark Art Institute yesterday unveiled plans for Tadao Ando’s new design for the museum’s campus, which will include a third building located behind the two current wings, a relocation of the art restoration center and extensive landscaping and redevelopment.

With a large underground component, the design will add 95,000 square feet to the Institute without increasing the Clark’s “footprint.” A small exhibit of the project, including plans, models and a videotape simulation of a visitor’s entrance, is now open on the first floor of the museum.

While components of the project will begin in 2004, the entire plan may not be finished for at least 10 years. In accordance with the possibility of change over the next decade, Clark officials are not releasing the projected total cost of the building.

Ando, whose practice is based in Osaka, Japan, most recently designed the acclaimed Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and also won the 1995 Pritzker Prize, which is the world’s most prestigious architectural award. His design for the Clark, which is his third commission in the United States, has been highly anticipated and was recently mentioned in The New York Times, as well as in other national media sources.

Ando is known for his subtle modernism, and for his designs that emphasize landscape and natural context. Accordingly, Michael Conforti, director of the Clark, described the Clark project as “an over-the-top expression of making a building as much about the landscape as about the additional space.” Further, Conforti emphasized that Ando’s specialties were particularly aptly suited to the Clark project. “We didn’t suspect he would have [such a] level of positive public reception – we simply knew he was right for us,” Conforti said.

Ando also emphasizes the connection between the landscape and the building in his designs. He called his plan for the Clark “a new definition of what a museum can be to a community,” and stated that he hoped visitors would be “inspired not only by looking at art, but also by looking at nature and everything the campus has to offer.” He paid particular attention to the natural surroundings in his design, even visiting Williamstown during each of the seasons to observe changes in the landscape.

In accordance with this focus on landscape, the building project will not only create additional space, but also reorient the entire museum’s campus.

As all of the construction will be behind the two current buildings, the South Street view of the museum’s two wings, built in 1955 and 1973, respectively, will be unchanged. The entrance, however, will be changed to wind around the buildings and approach them from behind; parking will be relocated accordingly.

The new building will be located at the current site of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, which will be moved to the Phelps Knoll site, located adjacent to Sweetwood Retirement Center and Mount Greylock High School.

With a primarily glass-and-steel façade also including a series of red granite walls, the building echoes Ando’s other designs while also referencing the 1973 museum wing. Visitors enter the complex through a dramatic set of sloping walls, which, according to Conforti, is another opportunity to “experience [the] building as [one] experiences sculpture.”

Surrounding the new building is a courtyard, which includes a 1.5-acre reflecting pool to be used for ice-skating in the winter. While the final design of the courtyard is undecided, the garden will most likely be composed of granite, glass and gravel, and may include columns. The courtyard and the reflecting pool framed by Stone Hill , is the visitor’s first view upon entrance to the museum.

The new building will serve primarily as a visitor’s center, holding retail space, a restaurant and a ticket area, as well as the Williams College/Clark Institute graduate school of art. The Graduate School space will feature a conference center, including meeting rooms and lecture halls.

Attached to the new building is a network of underground galleries connecting the new wing and the 1955 wing. These special exhibition galleries are lit largely by natural light, provided by a light well and a number of underground courtyards.

Additionally, the entrance to the 1955 building will be renovated and the gallery space slightly increased. The new plan calls for 40 percent more space to display the permanent collection; this will allow the museum to house the entire permanent collection within the 1955 building. The 1955 building renovation will also consist of a 2,700 square foot glass entry foyer, opening onto the courtyard.

The 1973 wing will also be renovated to expand the Art History Library, and will include a rare book room, a print study center and administrative offices.

Changes to central campus will also include expanding the network of hiking and biking trails. Reed Hilderbrand Associates of Watertown, Mass., worked on the landscape component of the project.

The first phase of the construction will be relocating the Williamstown Art Conservation Center to the Phelps Knoll site. This component of the project, scheduled to begin in 2004 and be finished by the Clark’s fiftieth anniversary in 2005, will cost $15 million. The architect for the new building will likely be announced in mid-April.

The Art Conservation Center is an independent lab with 50 member organizations, one of which is the Clark. The new building may also include a possible visitors’ center, with a studio art room for community members, a meeting room and a café.

Though the new art conservation center will be of particular interest to community members, Conforti emphasized that the changes to the main campus would benefit both local visitors and tourists. The Clark is currently among the most visited sites in Berkshire County, second only to Tanglewood. According to Conforti, the renovation will provide a “firmer foundation for cultural tourism” and allow the Clark to be more of a multi-purpose destination, as visitors enjoy the architecture, as well as the art and enhanced landscape.

The renovations will also enable the Clark to host larger shows, which could potentially attract more visitors. Conforti explains that the current size of the museum space prohibits the Clark from “embracing the scale of exhibitions that the public demands.” And although the Clark certainly has a large degree of trading power, Conforti maintains that because of space issues, “there’s no question that [the museum has] been out of the loop for certain shows.”

Despite the hoopla surrounding the new design, Conforti emphasized that it is by no means finalized. “I fully expect both community members and staff to have slight modifications which we will address,” explained Conforti.

The museum staff also has yet to decide whether they will partially close during construction in the upcoming years. While Conforti said that he doesn’t foresee the museum closing entirely, the staff may consider the construction an opportunity to lend out some pieces from the permanent collection

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