The Mercer Museum was built in 1916 by American anthropologist and historian Henry C. Mercer. His resolve to preserve an American lifestyle quickly being eclipsed by the Industrial Revolution led him to collect 30,000 tools and artifacts of pre-Industrial America. Mercer built the concrete castle to educate the public and share his impressive collection, which to this day has been deemed the largest of its kind.
Looking to expand exhibition and programming capabilities in an effort to attract more visitors, the Bucks County Historical Society commissioned Voith & Mactavish Architects, LLP for the design and construction of a new 13,000 sf addition. Completed in 2011, the addition serves as the Museum’s primary entrance, event venue, and orientation space. Its grand entry hall offers immediate views of the museum, visually connecting the contemporary addition and historic castle. New gallery and classroom areas provide flexible venues for interactive programs, educational spaces, and functionality for new, rotating exhibits. The two buildings are connected via a grand stair which doubles as a waiting space for groups of school children.
The addition was built six feet below the ground floor of the Mercer original creating a plinth to showcase the castle with unobstructed views. The poured in place concrete’s color and texture complement the historic structure, while windows and glass skylights in stark contrast with the castle’s heavy appearance, frame beautiful views of the castle and a dramatic outdoor courtyard.
Extensive site work was required for visitor ease-of-access. The addition orients the entry and parking lot away from the site’s hill, preserving the green space and improving visitor traffic. This reorientation allowed VMA to incorporate the sloping grade into an inviting plaza before the Museum entry.
Since the project’s completion, visitor numbers have jumped from 51,000 to over 65,000 annually. The Mercer Museum is now able to support its full range of programs and exhibits for an international audience, and give patrons a reason to return.