Savannah, Ga., known as one of America’s oldest and best-designed cities, finds itself straddling technological innovation and old-world elegance with the thoughtful redesign of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum of Art. The fluid space includes a new 65,000-square-foot expansion off of the original 1856 Greek Revival museum building, and the resulting institution exalts both historicity and new technology.

Christian Sottile, AIA, of local firm Sottile & Sottile, the lead designer of the expanded museum, worked with a core team—including SCAD co-founder and president Paula Wallace—and used charrettes to help guide the early design process. From the outset, the redesign, which won a CNU Charter Award this year, envisioned increasing Savannah’s architectural significance as America’s largest registered urban Historic Landmark District, with a mélange of historical preservation and contemporary innovation. “The site was previously considered a hazard for passersby before the project began,” Wallace says. “As we sifted through piles of 19th-century Savannah Gray Bricks to lay the foundation of our new museum, we unearthed Civil War–era épaulettes and ammunition shells buried there among the rubble.”

The existing museum building once served as the headquarters for the Central of Georgia Railway. The new addition incorporates the remnants of the rail depot next door, which was built circa 1853, and features that building’s original European oak flooring as well as 70,000 repurposed bricks originally handmade by slaves hundreds of years ago. An insulated-concrete-form system was employed where walls were constructed behind the historic masonry; stainless steel helical ties were driven through the Savannah Gray Brick and into the forms; and concrete was poured to secure the ties and support the historic structure. “In terms of construction, the fragile state of the ruins presented a significant challenge: staging a major construction project within the remaining perimeter of historic brick walls that would rely upon the new structure to provide permanent stabilization,” Sottile says. “The result is a continuous oscillation between new construction and historic preservation. Ecologically, the reuse and reinterpretation of the existing historic fabric was our most compelling strategy. We believe it will have global relevance in the decades ahead.”

To further offset history, the lobby boasts a 12-foot-long, virtual orientation-center touchscreen, designed by Pentagram and mounted as a table, that is the largest of its kind. “It reflects the dialogue of the real and the humane with the virtual, to forge a post-digital-era hybrid of craft and technology,” Sottile says.

The main entrance, which lies at the intersection of two city streets, bisects the building, creating two wings. The east wing consists of galleries, art studios, and classrooms, as well as the Walter O. Evans Center for African American Studies, designed to house one of the most prominent collections of African-American art in the world. The west wing houses a 250-seat theater used for lectures and cultural programming. The structure is punctuated by a single vertical element marking the main entrance of the museum—a semitransparent channel-glass-encased tower. It is the first time that channel glass has been used this way. “It was … [designed] in horizontal confluences not requiring additional support and is able to withstand the impact of hurricane winds,” Sottile says. It also forms an identifying landmark for the museum, since it is the first addition to a civic landmark on the Savannah skyline in nearly 100 years.

On opening night, the gargantuan touchscreen table doubled as an interactive point of entry and a repository for empty champagne glasses—and reminded onlookers that, while firmly rooted in the dramatic history of its ancestors, the city is also gliding into the contemporary. As the party went into full swing, Paula Wallace announced to the crowd: “Alice Walker once said, … if art doesn’t make us better, then what is it for?” And the cheering drifted gently through the tree-lined streets.

Project Credits

Project The SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Ga.
Client Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
Architect Sottile & Sottile and Lord Aeck & Sargent, in association with Dawson Architects—Christian Sottile, AIA, Joe Greco, AIA, Neil Dawson, AIA (principals)
Interior Designer SCAD Design Group—Paula Wallace, Glenn Wallace
Mechanical Engineer Newcomb & Boyd
Structural Engineer W. Hunter Saussy III
Electrical Engineer Newcomb & Boyd
Civil Engineer Wolverton & Associates
Geotechnical Engineer Terracon
General Contractor Carson Skanska
Landscape Architect Sottile & Sottile, SCAD Design Group, Wolverton & Associates, The Nelson Group
Lighting Designer SCAD Design Group, Lord Aeck & Sargent, Sottile & Sottile
Museum Consultant Quenroe & Associates
Audio Acoustics & Production Technology Consultant James S. Brawley & Associates
Interactive Media Table Design Pentagram
Size 82,118 square feet
Cost $26 million

Materials and Sources

Acoustical System AcousTex Specialty Products; Pinta Elements
Adhesives, Coatings, and Sealants
Dow Corning Corp.
WMF; True Manufacturing Co.; The Vollrath Co.; Vulcan; Southbend; Ice-O-Matic; General Electric Co.; LG Electronics
Building Management Systems and Services
Siemens Building Technologies
USG Corp.; Armstrong
Coastal Concrete Southeast II; Lafarge; Metromont Corp.; ARXX Corp.
Exterior Wall Systems
Historic Savannah Gray Brick (masonry walls); U.S. Heritage Group; Metromont Corp.; ARXX Corp.
Fabrics and Finishes
Carole Fabrics; SCAD Design Group (custom fixtures and furniture); Formica; Daltile; IceStone
Flooring Itlas S.p.A.; Tandus Flooring; Lafarge; Forbo Flooring Systems; Johnsonite; EmilAmerica; Savannah Hardscapes
Izzy+; Knoll; SCAD Design Group (custom art viewing tables); Steelcase; Bludot; Arcanum Studios; Nuno Erin; Roche Bobois; Lee Industries; South of Market
Technical Glass Products (Pilkington Profilit); W&W Glass (Pilkington Planar); Viracon
USG Corp.
Mingledorff’s; Carrier Corp.; Munters
Litelab Corp.; Hydrel; Lithonia Lighting, an Acuity Brands Co.; Renaissance Lighting, an Acuity Brands Co.; Sistemalux; Arteriors Home; Circa Lighting
Lighting Control Systems
Electronic Theatre Controls; Lutron Electronics Co.
Masonry and Stone
Scottish Stone Craft; Savannah Hardscapes
Alcoa; J.M. Gruca
Savannah Millwork; DuPont (Corian)
Paints and Finishes
The Sherwin-Williams Co.; SCAD Design Group (reconditioned timber theater wall finish)
Plumbing and Water System Kohler Co.; Zurn Industries; Metpar Corp.
Firestone Building Products
KI; Design Within Reach
Site and Landscape Products
Design Within Reach; Lewis & Sheron Textiles; Kolo; Landscape Forms; Belson Outdoors
Structural System
Steel Erectors
USF Graphicstudio (Trenton Doyle Hancock, limited edition screen printed wallpaper—Flower Bed II: A Prelude to Damnation)
SCAD Design Group
Windows, Curtainwalls, and Doors Kawneer; Glass Systems; Graham Wood Doors, an Assa Abbloy Group Co.; McCarthy