Clark adds second campus to Ando’s design scheme

Over the summer, the Clark Art Institute revealed the newest component of its campaign to redesign and extend the museum’s campus. The Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), currently situated behind the museum in a low-lying building that could double as a bomb shelter, will move two miles down Route 7 if given the approval of the town’s planning board. Tadao Ando, the architect for the Clark’s main campus, will also design the conservation facility.

His other work in the United States includes the Calder Museum in Philadelphia, the Pulitzer Foundation in St. Louis and, most notably, the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. WACC, with its characteristically simple and modern glass-and-wood design, will be his first wooden building outside of Japan.

Plans for the main campus were unveiled in March. The sweeping changes include the construction of a third wing with 95,000 square feet, making room for visitor, graduate and conference centers. Ando’s design also does its best to synthesize the existing wings’ polarities. The white marble temple of art, designed in 1953, will be renovated and connected to the new wing through a series of underground galleries. The museum’s granite wing, finished in 1973, faces comparatively small adjustments after work on the other two wings is complete. It will be devoted primarily to research and academic purposes.

Ando reoriented the museum to take full advantage of the campus’s natural beauty, moving the main entrance to the new wing. Instead of entering from the east, visitors will enter from the north. The campus as a whole will wrap around Stone Hill and the wings will share access to a 1.5-acre reflecting pool. In its plans, the Clark emphasizes its commitment to building a museum in which adding floor space is just as important as complementing the landscape.

To make room for Ando’s addition, the Clark’s director, Michael Conforti, intends to move WACC to the Greylock campus, a 20-acre site located between Mount Greylock High School and Sweetwood retirement home on Route 7. This will be the first step in Conforti’s “master plan.” The Greylock campus, previously known as “Phelps Knoll,” was tentatively identified as the preferred locale for the center last spring, but no plans were released.

The new conservation center will sit on the highest point of the knoll and, true to the shared vision of Ando and the Clark, will be fully integrated into the site. From most angles the building will appear to be only one story high, though additional levels will be hidden behind the crest of the hill. Most importantly, the new building will be open to the public.

Conforti clarified the Clark’s efforts to take full advantage of what it hopes will be its second campus: “Williamstown is beautifully situated. I think we sometimes suffer because we’re so confident that the Purple Valley is beautiful, we don’t have to work hard making the campus beautiful.” The new WACC will include 670 square-foot porches that face east, affording spectacular views of the Hopper. The development of the site, which incorporates extensive landscaping, is expected to cost $17 million.

In order to preserve the intimacy that Sterling Clark once envisioned for his museum, “Clark Greylock” will be linked to the Stone Hill campus not only by roadway, but also by Stone Hill Road, a two-mile walking trail. As Conforti explained, “The idea is that some [visitors] may choose to walk between the art exhibited in the museum with the great view north to the new facility with the great view east.”

But the Greylock campus offers more than just breathtaking views. Its location between the high school and the retirement home presents what the Clark has chosen to interpret as an opportunity to expand its programming, adding exhibition and classroom space to the WACC. The aim, then, is not merely to house the conservation center, but to open a community arts center with strong ties to Mount Greylock High School and Sweetwood. The 2000-square foot lobby that will act as an informal visitor’s center, with an information booth and a video about other cultural attractions nearby. A shop and a café are also being planned.

Visitors will then proceed to one of four exhibition galleries. In the summertime these galleries will feature works on paper – prints, drawings and photographs from the Clark’s 20th-century collection, as well as works recently restored in the WACC. Publicly-accessible art storage will also be part of the exhibition space.

13,000 square feet will be used for conservation, a 40 percent increase. To make the conservation more interactive, Ando’s design uses large windows to enable visitors to watch the conservationists at work.

From November to March, when attendance drops, the Clark will strengthen its commitment to the community by opening exhibition space to a variety of uses. One possibility is devoting one room to a high school art show. Indeed, the new space has the potential to offer studio art classes, internships and other educational opportunities to the community year-round, enabling the Clark to, as Conforti states, “reach into the community in ways that museums don’t normally get a chance to do.”

The Clark expects to receive a decision from the town planning board by the end of the calendar year. There is also the trickier issue of finding a water source on the property or in a nearby spring. If this is not resolved – and it might not be, Conforti is careful to point out – the Clark will instead accommodate WACC on the Stone Hill campus. Terminating plans for Clark Greylock would mean sacrificing the opportunity to develop a community arts center.

If these two issues are resolved, however, Clark Greylock will be scheduled to open in the summer of 2006, coinciding with the end of the Clark’s 50th anniversary. The museum will then begin the enormous task of adding to and enhancing the Stone Hill campus, a project that will be completed “sometime in the middle of the next decade,” according to Conforti.

The Clark has set up two rooms on either side of the passageway to the main galleries which feature information about the building project. One of the rooms, open since March, holds plans and models for the Stone Hill campus, including a virtual tour that gives a good sense of what a visit to the museum will be like years from now. The other room houses a small exhibit about the history of the Clark. In July, plans and models of the Greylock campus were added.