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Project in Detail

Nelson Atkins Museum of Art

Kansas City, United States of America
Steven Holl Architects
World Architecture Festival 2008 - Shortlisted


The expansion of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art fuses architecture with landscape to create an experiential architecture that unfolds for visitors as it is perceived through each individual’s movement through space and time. The new addition, named the Bloch Building, is the centerpiece of the Museum’s strategic plan to expand its capacity to engage, educate and serve the community. Extending along the eastern edge of the campus, it is distinguished by five glass "lenses," traversing from the existing building through the Sculpture Park to form new spaces and angles of vision. Moving through the new addition, visitors experience a flow between light, art, architecture and landscape, with views from one level to another, from inside to outside. The threaded movement between the light-gathering “lenses” of the new addition weaves the building with the landscape in a fluid dynamism based on a sensitive relationship to its context. Rather than an addition of mass, the new elements exist in complementary contrast with the original 1933 neo-classical building. The innovative merging of landscape, architecture and art was executed through close collaboration with museum curators and artists, to achieve a dynamic and supportive relationship between art and architecture.
The first of the five lenses forms a bright and transparent lobby, with café, art library and bookstore, inviting the public into the Museum and encouraging movement via ramps toward the galleries as they progress downward into the Sculpture Park. From the lobby a new cross-axis connects through to the original building’s grand spaces. At night the glowing glass volume of the lobby provides an inviting transparency, drawing visitors to events and activities.
The lenses, multiple layers of translucent glass gather, diffuse and refract light, at times materializing light like blocks of ice. During the day the lenses inject varying qualities of light into the galleries, while at night the Sculpture Park glows with their internal light. The continuum of gallery spaces, linked by both aligned openings for distant perspectives and openings offset within spaces, carries the visitor through the diverse variously scaled galleries. Particularity rather than repetition is employed, giving a unique spatial framework to each work of art and emphasizing differences of form, material and thinking behind the works.
A large reflecting pool incorporating the installation “One Sun/34 Moons” by artist Walter De Maria graces the granite-paved entrance plaza. The “moons” of the artwork are circular skylight discs in the bottom of the pool that project water-refracted natural light into the garage below. At night, light from the parking garage lifts up through the circles to illuminate the plaza.
The Bloch’s design which incorporates eight entrances and exits and allows visitors to move back and forth via ramps between the galleries and the Sculpture Park, as well as the Museum’s free admission policy, encourages the community to access the Museum over and over again. The Sculpture Park—open to the public 24-hours a day—is used by the community in various ways ranging from a morning run, to walking the dog over the meandering path between the lenses in the middle of the night. At all hours visitors can experience the Museum’s exterior spaces and sculpture courts created between the lenses in the Sculpture Park.
The new 165,000-square-foot expansion increases Museum space by more than 70 percent and features a cascading level of expansive, light-filled galleries. Since the Bloch Building opened in June 2007, Museum attendance has more than doubled. Last year The Nelson-Atkins welcomed over 100,000 children and adults with school groups, and over 10,000 visitors who were part of adult groups

The expansion strategically combines the advantages of a high insulating green roof and below-grade construction with large thermal massing, reducing the overall energy load. A 50,000-square-foot green roof system (12” thick overall), contiguous with the landscape, naturally manages storm water and provides high insulation value (increasing the R-value by 3 points) and thermal mass to the building, significantly reducing energy consumption. Paved areas are decreased by replacing on-grade parking with a below-grade garage. Trees and plantings are indigenous or adaptive to the local climate and require minimum maintenance, while also providing natural shade throughout the landscape for paths, terraces and vision glass areas.

The lenses consist of a double layer glass assembly with inner and outer layers separated by a pressurized air cavity, providing maximum natural light allowable for art conservation while minimizing heat gain in summer; and harnessing solar gain and reducing heat loss in winter. The inner layer of the lenses is of low-iron, laminated, acid-etched glass that further diffuses the light to the interior, materializing it in the warm and cool glow of direct and indirect light changing on the glass surfaces throughout the day. It also houses structural elements, provides service access, and conceals the lens lighting—creating thick walls of glowing glass at night when viewed from inside and out. The computer-controlled shade screens within the cavities allow variable day lighting to meet conservation criteria for the full range of art media and adjust to differing seasonal light conditions. The complete lens assembly provides 18% visible light transmission for optimum natural light levels and eliminates 99.88% of ultraviolet rays harmful to the art. Over 75% of spaces are naturally day-lit and low-level site lighting is provided entirely by spill from the building's interior lighting which reduces light pollution.

Lens air cavities are conditioned with the building's exhaust air; enthalpy wheels located in intake and exhaust air paths reuse building energy. White membrane roofing of lenses minimizes heat absorption. The addition and retrofitted existing building systems use no CFC refrigerants, HCFCs or salons. HVAC systems undergo comprehensive commissioning to optimize performance. 100% of shell/structure and 50% of non-shell/structure of the existing building is maintained. For sustainability goals and artwork conservation, all materials including paints, carpets and adhesives have zero or very low-VOC emittance. The Bloch’s terrazzo floor is specified with recycled glass aggregate; Gallery floors are of FSC-certified wood

Lead Architect »

Steven Holl Architects

Professional Credits »

Mr Chris McVoy
Steven Holl Architects
United States of America