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Studio Museum in Harlem

Adjaye Associates

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The Studio Museum in Harlem


  • Executive Architect: Cooper, Robertson & Partners
  • Construction Management: Sciame
  • Subcontractor: McKissack & McKissack


71,000 sq. feet

Construction Cost




Project Description


The Studio Museum in Harlem today announced that it will construct a new home on Manhattan’s West 125th Street, replacing its current facility with a structure designed expressly for its program by Adjaye Associates. Undertaken as a public-private initiative with support from the City of New York, the five-story, 71,000-square-foot project will provide the custom-built and expanded facilities, enriched visitor experience and strong architectural presence appropriate to a premier center for contemporary artists of African descent, the principal visual art institution in Harlem and a magnet for visitors from around the world. The new building will enable the Studio Museum to better serve its growing and diverse audiences, provide additional educational opportunities to museumgoers from toddlers to seniors, expand its world-renowned exhibitions of art by artists of African descent and influenced and inspired by black culture, and effectively display its singular collection of artwork from the nineteenth century to the present day.

With construction expected to be in progress by 2017, the project will add to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Studio Museum, which opened in 1968 in a rented loft at Fifth Avenue and 125th Street and has been operating since 1982 in a century-old commercial building renovated for it by the celebrated African-American architect J. Max Bond, Jr. 

Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, stated, “The world of the arts and Harlem have both changed dramatically over the half century since our institution was founded, and we’re proud that the Studio Museum has been a catalyst in those developments. Now, as a standard-bearer for contemporary artists of African descent, we’re poised to begin a new era. With the help of the brilliant David Adjaye, who is giving us the first facility designed expressly for our needs, we will foster the next generation of artists. We will bring the creative achievements of our artists, past and present, to audiences from near and far. And, more than ever, we will heighten the special vibrancy that is synonymous with Harlem.”

An increase in space of more than 50 percent for the galleries and the acclaimed Artist-in-Residence program will enrich visitor experience at the Studio Museum and enable the institution to greatly expand its schedule of exhibitions while presenting ongoing installations of works from its important and rapidly growing permanent collection, now containing nearly 2000 objects. Indoor public space will increase by almost 60 percent, with spaces for educational activities and public programs doubled in capacity and integrated seamlessly with the rest of the building, enhancing the Studio Museum’s role as a gathering place for Harlem residents, the wider New York community and the international art world.

The Museum intends to file plans for the building's conceptual design with the Public Design Commission of the City of New York (PDC) on July 14, for review by a PDC subcommittee. Following completion of schematic design, the Museum will file plans for PDC preliminary approval.

Taking its architectural cues from the brownstones, churches and bustling sidewalks of Harlem, Adjaye Associates’ conceptual design envisions a dynamic, sculptural facade that contrasts strongly with the surrounding commercial buildings, while being transparent and porous from street level. Designed to function as an exhibition gallery, an archive, a workplace for artists in residence and a “living room” for the Harlem community and its visitors, the new building features a light-filled core that soars upward for four stories; an “inverted stoop” that invites the public into a lively multi-use space for lectures, performances, informal gatherings and more; a terrace overlooking 125th Street; and a variety of graciously proportioned spaces for installing artworks, including pieces that will be visible from outside the building as beacons for the museum.

Joining Together to Build the New Studio Museum

Raymond J. McGuire, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, stated, “But for The Studio Museum in Harlem, hundreds of artists of African descent would not have the international acclaim that they do today, and generations of audiences would not have an enlightened and integrative view of the power of art and artists. A beautifully designed, purpose-built home for the Studio Museum will enliven the ongoing developments on 125th Street while firmly anchoring them in the artistic and cultural traditions of Harlem. We are grateful to our many donors, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gayle Brewer and the City of New York for recognizing the magnitude of what the Studio Museum has already accomplished and for generously supporting this next stage in our development, which promises to be of the highest importance both to global culture and to the civic fabric of New York.”

The Studio Museum inaugurated its building project after the Board of Trustees decided that the institution ought to remain at its current site, which offers unmatched prominence in Harlem, but needed a radical reinvention of its existing space to realize the museum’s potential. In January 2014, the Board completed an international search by unanimously selecting Adjaye Associates to design a new museum building, with Cooper Robertson as executive architects and program planning consultants.

Estimated at $122 million, including hard and soft construction costs and a reserve fund, the project will span two adjacent lots on West 125th Street, including the one occupied by the museum’s existing main building. To date, the Mayor’s Office, the City Council, and the Office of the Manhattan Borough President have appropriated some $35.3 million to the project, including the recently announced allocation for Fiscal Year 2016. 

Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, stated, “For half a century, The Studio Museum in Harlem has proved that there is no contradiction between being a world-class art institution and a community-based cultural organization. The Studio Museum has succeeded in both roles, to the benefit of everyone from schoolchildren in Harlem to some of today’s most internationally renowned artists. This project, which will dramatically advance the Studio Museum in its work, is an opportunity that the City of New York has wholeheartedly embraced, as a leading example of how we want great art to be a part of the life of every community.”

“I am so honored to be working on The Studio Museum in Harlem,” David Adjaye stated. “This project is about pushing the museum typology to a new place and thinking about the display and reception of art in innovative ways. It is also about a powerful urban resonance—drawing on the architectural tropes of Harlem and celebrating the history and culture of this extraordinary neighborhood with a building that will be a beacon for a growing local, national and international audience.” 

A Design to Serve Harlem’s Spirit and the Studio Museum’s Vision

The conceptual design to be presented for review by the Public Design Commission of the City of New York draws on and transforms characteristic aspects of Harlem’s architecture, including its brownstones and churches. The masonry-framed windows of the neighborhood’s apartment buildings have inspired a rhythmic facade composed of windows of varying sizes and proportions. Inside the museum, the radiant, soaring volumes of church sanctuaries will find an equivalent in a toplit central hall, with ample wall area to install large-scale works of art. A switchback stair rising through four floors will create multiple look-out points from the landings. Throughout the building, visitors will have ample opportunities to contemplate both the museum interior and the vibrant streetscape outside, creating an experience anchored firmly in the history and community of the Harlem neighborhood.

To add to the building’s street presence and emphasize the museum’s function as a gathering place, Adjaye has conceived a 199-seat “inverted stoop”: a set of descending steps that begins at the sidewalk and leads down to the lower level, which can be used as a stage for lectures, screenings and performances. Thanks to the transparency of the building at sidewalk level, people on 125th Street will feel drawn into the liveliness of this unprecedented gathering place and be able to join it at will, since the Studio Museum anticipates that the entrance and lower levels will be accessible free of charge during normal museum hours.

The conceptual design proposes galleries sensitively configured in varying proportions and scales to accommodate the wide variety of works in the permanent collection and many sizes and types of temporary exhibitions. Studios for the artists in residence, staff offices and education spaces will be thoughtfully designed and fully-equipped for maximum efficiency, flexibility, accessibility and comfort. 

Adjaye Associates will work in conjunction with Cooper Robertson, the project’s executive architect and project planning consultants. Founded by Alexander Cooper, FAIA in 1979, Cooper Robertson is a 50-person, New York City-based firm committed to interdisciplinary, sustainable and site-sensitive design. Cooper Robertson has extensive experience building major cultural and educational buildings, including the new Whitney Museum of American Art (in collaboration with Renzo Piano Building Workshop), and the Harlem Village Academies High School. Cooper Robertson’s significant New York City experience combined with Adjaye Associates’ international sensibility truly reflects the Museum’s local commitment and global reach.

Construction management for the project will be undertaken by Sciame, a firm widely recognized throughout the New York area for its expertise in technically sophisticated and artistically designed projects. McKissack & McKissack, the oldest minority-owned architecture and engineering firm in the United States, will partner with Sciame as its subcontractor. To give active expression to the Studio Museum’s values and make tangible the commitment of the Board of Trustees to the community of Harlem, McKissack & McKissack has been charged with developing and implementing a program to ensure that the project meets or exceeds the goals set by the Studio Museum for workforce diversity and meaningful participation by qualified minority-owned, woman-owned and locally based businesses.

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