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Tacoma Art Museum takes Haub wing plans to Landmarks Preservation Commission for May 8 vote

Post by Rosemary Ponnekanti / The News Tribune on April 26, 2013 at 11:11 am |
April 29, 2013 12:48 pm
Olson Kundig's rendering of the western (Pacific Avenue side) elevation of TAM's expansion. Courtesy image.
Olson Kundig’s rendering of the western (Pacific Avenue side) elevation of TAM’s expansion. Courtesy image.

The Tacoma Art Museum and Seattle architects Olson Kundig brought their plans for the museum’s new Western American art wing before Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission at a meeting Wednesday night. Details on the renderings include a close-up of the building material – a Tacoma-made fiber and resin composite called Richlite – the louvred windows which will allow street views into the wing’s sculpture hall, layout of five internal galleries and a metal grill on the Pacific Avenue side of the overhanging canopy.

The 16,000-square-foot wing is budgeted at $15.5 million, and purpose-built to house the newly-donated, 280-piece Western art collection of German billionaire Erivan Haub and his wife Helga, who have a home on Fox Island. The Haubs are paying for part of the expansion, which also includes renovation of the existing lobby, street entrance and parking lot entrance areas. You can read more details in Craig Sailor’s story here.

The Commission had no big objections, says architect and commissioner James Steel, but there were some questions about transparency from the street and whether the ivy slope beneath the cantilevered wing would be closed in for safety.

“They did improve the museum’s entrance – it’s more recognizable and transparent from the street,” says Steel. “They improved the pedestrian feel, and it makes a stronger relationship to Tollefson Plaza.”

What’s interesting about the proposal, which the Commission will vote on May 8 (it has jurisdiction over the exterior look of the building, which is sited in the Union Depot conservation district), are the plans, which show close-up details.

The louvered screens on the new wing. Courtesy image.
The louvered screens on the new wing. Courtesy image.

The street side of the wing will be half blank panels, half louvered windows showing glimpses of a sculpture hall which runs inside parallel to the sidewalk. Both will be made of Richlite, a composite building material produced on the Tacoma tideflats. The color is currently a dull bronze, though TAM director Stephanie Stebich said last week that decision wasn’t final.

“The color and soft texture of the material backgrounds the art in front, the street trees and the existing building,” said Tom Kundig, whose firm Olson Kundig is designing the project. He added that while the opening of the louvered screens was “curatorially dependent,” it was in the museum’s interest to open them to view and “animate the street.”

Viewed from Tollefson Plaza the building sits low and squat – partly to balance the taller existing building, partly as a result of the tight budget, Kundig says – but a silvery aluminum grille  adds interest (and light) to the square canopy that will shelter museum-goers from the elements outside the entrance. Native landscaping is planned. Lighter windows will also let passers-by see into the museum’s existing cafe and activity areas.

The interior plan for the wing's street level. Courtesy image.
The interior plan for the wing’s street level. Courtesy image.

Inside, the new wing has five connected galleries leading off both the sculpture hall and the revamped lobby area. The outside doors will now be around the corner from the store, creating a bigger interior lobby  with more room for the free public events the museum frequently holds. A bigger elevator will take visitors from the lower-level parking lot up to the lobby, hopefully reducing the current long, cold waits for elevator space during busy events.

Other details on the plans include a raised, contrast-paving crossing across Pacific Avenue, an art patio outside the cafe, a new family interactive gallery between the store and cafe, a drop-off lane on the street outside and expansion to the museum’s storage area underneath the lobby. The roof of the new wing, visible from the upstairs mezzanine and terrace, will be all gravel.

The Commission did ask for night-time renderings, and for just how transparent the louvers would be when closed to protect the art inside. They also questioned the darkness of the building’s color.

As far as the simple, boxy design, however, Steel was supportive: “In this review district the concern is how well the new construction will fit in with the buildings around it,” he says. “Given the simplicity of the existing building, we would expect the new one to carry the same design vocabulary. It relates to the current building well.”

Says Kundig: “The existing building is more massive and boxy. Architecture is about the ensemble of everything around…when (the new wing) is finished people will be looking at the art, not the building.”

Construction of the expansion is set for fall, with completion expected in 2014.

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