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july/august 2011

American Builders Quarterly

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MFA Boston A city in microcosm by Lord Norman Foster, p. 82

swiss army style, p. 127 Reader & Swartz Architects shares its inspiration behind its Das Swartzenreader Haus

Luxury Living, p. 43 Multifaceted Winges ArchitectsÕ collaborative approach yields high-end, stunning results


mfa boston

MFA Boston lord fosterテ不 city in microcosm by annie fischer

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When Foster + Partners pays a visit to one of the world's finest art museums, it can only mean big plans are afoot. For MFA Boston, it came in the form of the stunning Art of the Americas wing. Photo: Chuck Choi. American Builders Quarterly

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L

ord Norman Foster's name speaks volumes. As much a man as an icon, the founder and chairman of Londonbased Foster + Partners still lends his influence and know-how to the firm's projects. Such was the case for the newly redeveloped Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), a $345 million expansion and renovation unveiled to the public in November 2010. The project required the design teamÑmade up of Foster; Spencer de Grey, senior partner and head of design; and Michael Jones, partner­­Ñto tackle technical and social dimensions in tandem. It was a balancing act: in one hand, the consideration of how to make the experience enjoyable and uplifting; in the other, how to engage with the site's urban context. Drawing on its celebrated history in historic building interventionsÑincluding the Reichstag in Berlin, the British Museum in London, and New York City's Hearst TowerÑFoster + Partners reinstated the MFA into Boston's historical core by reestablishing the neoclassical symmetry of Guy Lowell's original Beaux-Arts plan, devised in 1907. American Builders Quarterly catches up with Lord Foster to discuss Lowell's legacy, his firm's innovative design, and the challenges encountered when reworking the MFA Boston.

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The new Art of the Americas wing is housed in a freestanding "crystal spine" structure, bridging the gap between the museum's two main volumes. Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Opposite page: Lord Norman Foster. Photo: Yukio Futagawa.

“our contemporary interventions can enhance the old and breathe new life into one of the world’s finest cultural institutions.Ó American Builders Quarterly

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Òa major public building

ABQ: How does the design, which restores Guy Lowell’s original 1907 master plan, also reflect modern sensibilities? Lord Norman Foster: The design reflects the broader role the modern museum plays in the life of the city. This has changed since the turn of the century. The major public museum is no longer a collection of galleries; it has become an important civic center, with places to eat, shop, meet, space for events, education programs, and much more. By engaging with these activities and with the spirit of the existing structure, our contemporary interventions can enhance the old and breathe new life into one of the world’s finest cultural institutions. ABQ: In what ways does the museum’s physical reorientation change the way visitors experience the space? NF: Our approach has been to reassert Lowell’s original plan, restoring its sense of clarity, rather than fundamentally changing the composition. A major public building like the MFA can be thought of as a city in microcosm. The essence of a great gallery, like a great city, is when you feel at ease and have that great sense of orientation— when you have a clear route or boulevard, and understand where the heart of the building is. Visitors can move from the equivalent of the great square—the reinterpreted courtyard—into a wing of Asian, ancient, American, European, or contemporary art. This movement gives a richness and variety to the experience but all the while maintains this clear sense of always knowing where you are.

MFA can be thought of as a city in microcosmÓ like the

ABQ: What are some of the most notable design elements? In what ways does the building reflect Foster + Partners’ design philosophy? NF: The most significant addition is the new Art of the Americas wing, which contains 53 new galleries over four floors. The wing houses one of the world’s premier assemblages of American art. We designed the gallery spaces to allow the art to be displayed with a more obvious sense of clarity, context, and light. We have also opened the building up to its surroundings. It is more accessible from the city and the park, as new landscaping strengthens its links with the Back Bay Fens. ABQ: In what ways does the design reflect the museum’s Boston location? NF: Over time, the museum had lost its connection to the Back Bay Fens and the beautiful landscape of Frederick

Left: Sustainability was a key design component in the revamping of MFA Boston. A glass faade provides a near-seamless experience for visitors, as well as optimum daylighting throughout the interior. Photo: Nigel Young.

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Top: By making the building more open and new while retaining the historic elements of the museum, Foster + Partners strengthened MFA Boston's link to the community. Photo: Chuck Choi. Left: More than one million people visit MFA Boston annually, putting a strain on the facility itself. The renovation restored the museum while also facilitating this volume of traffic into the future with a more spacious design.

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Above: Foster + Partners' reimagination of MFA Boston returns the museum to its historical legacy as part of Boston's Emerald Necklace. Left: The glass façade brings abundant daylight into the museum's interior and reinforces the open concept of the museum's new addition. Photos: Nigel Young.

Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace. In restoring Lowell’s original plan and in opening up and reasserting the grand Fenway entrance, we have rediscovered this link. At the same time, we have drawn the landscape deep into the heart of the building and along Huntington Avenue. The result is a more legible museum that will create new connections between the park, the museum, and the local community. ABQ: How was the decision made to enclose the courtyard in a freestanding building? NF: The decision to insert a freestanding building—a glass “jewel box”—rather than enclose the courtyard, was influenced by a number of factors. This approach meant that we could draw the landscape of the Fens deeper into the plan, pulling strands of greenery between the glass walls of the new building and the existing structure to encapsulate the heart of the museum. There were also structural considerations, in particular the seismic conditions and possibility of movement between adjoining new and old structures. ABQ: How would you describe the process of collaboration with the museum’s curators and conservators? NF: We worked very closely with the museum’s curators and conservators. The project was a rare opportunity to engage with the world’s foremost collection of American art. Both the collection and this dialogue guided the

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1. The Art of the Americas wing: As the most significant addition to the museum, this wing contains 53 galleries on four floors, and houses more than 5,000 works of American artÑmore than double the number of objects previously displayed.

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3. Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard: This 63-foot-tall, glass-walled interior courtyard offers a naturally lit cafŽ and meeting groundÑand one terrific party space.

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2. Fenway entrance: Foster + Partners reopened the museum to its surroundings, making it more accessible to the city, and new landscaping strengthens the MFA's links with the Back Bay Fens parkland.

4. Ann and Graham Gund Gallery: To be used for major special exhibitions, this flexible gallery is located beneath the Shapiro Family Courtyard, and yet it is still 16 feet tall. 5. Education Center: Studio and seminar classrooms accompany a 150-seat, multipurpose auditorium for film, speech, and music. july/august 2011

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sequence of spaces within the master plan, as well as the detail of the individual galleries within the Art of the Americas wing. ABQ: What sustainable features did Foster + Partners introduce in the museum expansion? NF: The courtyard is naturally lit, and the galleries have state-of-the-art climate control. By zoning the different areas within the museum, mechanical means are only employed where they are required by the works of art. These measures are combined with efficient environmental systems and a centralized plant facility that helps to reduce waste. ABQ: What were some of the greatest challenges encountered in the design process? NF: A project such as the MFA is interesting because it engages us in so many ways. There is the technical dimension: how you enable people to view these amazing pieces in the best possible conditions, and how you control the light—natural and artificial. That goes hand-in-hand with the social dimension: How do you make the experience of going to the museum or art gallery enjoyable and uplifting? How do you add magic? Finally, there’s the urban dimension: How do you engage with the city, the street, the Back Bay Fens? How do you draw people in? How do you make the building inviting? The challenge is multifaceted. Perhaps the most significant part of this challenge was achieving a balance between deferring to the historic fabric of the museum, opening up new vistas to parts of it which had hitherto been blocked, while establishing a new building with integrity. At the same time, it was important that the spaces defer to the paintings and sculptures they display. These are the true protagonists. ABQ

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Above: The new addition allows the display of more than 5,000 additional works. They can be found in expansive galleries or hidden at the end of quiet corridors. Below: New meets old as the new addition abuts against the classical architecture of the museum's other wings. Opposite page: Museum by day, gala hall at night, the tones of the new addition can be completely reworked for special events in the evening. Photos: Nigel Young.

American Builders Quarterly


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ÒThe project was a

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A city in microcosm by Lord Norman Foster, p. 82 luxury living, p. 43 Multifaceted Winges ArchitectsÕ collaborative approach yields high-end...

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