On an aesthetically-inclined stretch of Quincy Street, between Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Gund Hall and the Le Corbusier-designed Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University is embarking on an ambitious building project meant to coalesce its three art museums—the Fogg, the Bush-Reisinger, and the Arthur M. Sackler—into a more centralized experience. The new design, carried out by Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), will add 100,000 square feet of new space, and will allow the institutions to share a common entrance and public areas, and, promisingly, to exhibit parts of each collection in new, coordinated ways. Begun in 2008, and having broken ground in 2010, the Harvard Art Museums project is now well underway; the complex is set to open in the fall of 2014.
The project is a chimera of old and new, which, for RPBW—the firm behind such museum additions as The Morgan Library & Museum, in New York, and the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago—is something of a firm specialty. At the center of the existing Fogg Museum, the oldest of the Harvard trio, an Italianate courtyard carves out an impressive open space. With its surfaces preserved as part of the project, this Calderwood Courtyard will become the element that hinges together the new Harvard Art Museums. Not only does it connect the Fogg’s two wings on Quincy Street, it will link with a new structure on its backside, along Prescott Street, which will house galleries for the Sackler and Bush-Reisinger museums.
Between the galleries, on either side of the ground-level courtyard arcade, the building will now include a café and gift shop. A glass-and-steel roof structure will allow in controlled natural light and will stitch together old and new. The massing of this new volume is already visible on the site—the structure, now wrapped, has taken shape at the corner of Prescott and Cambridge Streets, and the glazing has been installed at the upper levels. The existing Quincy Street entrance will remain, but RBPW added a second Prescott Street entrance designed to dialogue with the iconic ramp of the adjacent Carpenter Center.
A teaching museum, the new facility provides art study centers, a 300-seat theater, classrooms, a top-floor gallery meant to explore the relationship of art and technology, and the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. The public exhibition spaces, designed by Los Angeles-based wHY Architecture, will be tailored to accommodate both a meandering public, but also student groups closely studying artwork. And with 40 percent more exhibition space, the Harvard Art Museums will now be able to display more of its 250,000-plus object collection. Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust has emphasized the role of the arts at the university throughout her tenure, launching a Task Force on the Arts in 2008. And with the 2014 opening of the RPBW structure, arts at the university will have an impressive new flagship.