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Modern Meets Tradition: University of Michigan Museum of Art Expansion/Restoration by Allied Works Architecture

Ann Arbor: Brad Cloepfil's design to expand a university museum should create a thoughtful dialogue between historical and contemporary architecture.

August 11, 2004

The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) in Ann Arbor, established in 1946, is housed in the elegant Beaux Arts-style Alumni Memorial Hall designed by Donaldson and Meier Architects and opened in 1910. And even though Art News recently noted that it is "considered one of the finest university art museums in the United States," the art collections long ago outgrew the museum space – no more than 3 to 4 percent of its world-class collections of some 16,000 works of art can be displayed at any one time, and there is inadequate space for temporary exhibitions, educational activities, and collections storage.


But all of that will change when a renovated and expanded UMMA is planed to open in 2008. Designed by Brad Cloepfil of Portland, Oregon-based Allied Works Architecture, in association with Troy, Michigan-based IDS (Integrated Design Solutions), the $35 million project will include a 56,000 square-foot addition, as well as the complete restoration and renovation of Alumni Memorial Hall.


The addition will more than double the Museum's existing space from 40,572 square feet to 97,346 square feet, and will house substantial new gallery space; collections; storage, conservation, study areas; an auditorium; classrooms and hands-on art-making facilities; an expanded museum shop; and public gathering spaces and improved visitor amenities.


The Allied Works-designed addition extends the Museum to the north in the form of a modified T-shape, connecting with the existing building through a central axis with two radiating “arms” that project toward the street on one side, and toward the heart of the University campus on the other. These arms reach symbolically toward the community and University constituencies served by the Museum, and respond to the challenges of a historically critical site on the University's original campus. The addition creates a sequence of exterior landscaped spaces and opportunities for outdoor art installations, and reinforces the southwest corner of the campus as a public gateway to the University.


One of the last new structures to be built on the University's original 40-acre campus, the Museum addition is sited directly north of Alumni Memorial Hall. The addition extends the Museum's façade along State Street and adds to the ceremonial face that University buildings such as historic Angell Hall (Albert Kahn, 1924) present along this major thoroughfare. The design preserves and captures the popular pedestrian path linking State Street with the Diag, the historic heart and a gathering place at the center of the campus named for the diagonal sidewalks that lead to buildings arrayed around the campus. (Hill Auditorium, also designed by Albert Kahn with Ernest Wilby and completed in 1913, reopened in January 2004 after a complete renovation and restoration by Albert Kahn Associates and Ann Arbor-based Quinn Evans Architects.)


The Allied Works Architects museum expansion balances materiality with transparency, creating an interplay of stone, glass, and vertical steel cladding. The transparency of some façade views will reveal the building's function beyond the form, offering glimpses into public spaces and gallery zones along with controlled natural light in many gallery spaces. From twilight, the building will become a “beacon” for the arts.


"The design for the expansion of UMMA was motivated by three fundamental aspirations," Cloepfil says. "First, from its critical position on State Street, to join the historic heart of campus with the rest of the civic and academic community of Ann Arbor. Next, to unify and amplify the distinct periods of history represented in the existing architecture on campus. Finally, to create a sense of immediacy – a direct connection between the collections and programs of the Museum and everyday life on campus…where the boundaries of art, life, and landscape merge to become one."


The design conveys a dialogue between historical and contemporary architecture. While clearly establishing its own visual vocabulary in stone and glass, the addition's form and massing defer to the principal façades of Alumni Memorial Hall, allowing the existing building to remain the primary image and entrance to the Museum. A new State Street entrance at grade level will open into a public Forum that can remain open for extended hours for evening lectures, performances, classes, and other public programs.


The restoration of Alumni Memorial Hall, originally built as a war memorial, includes restoring many original architectural features: Skylights will be re-opened in the central double-height Apse and a number of other public areas; original moldings will be uncovered and restored; and all mechanical systems will be upgraded.


To date, the Museum has reached more than half of its funding goal for the $35 million project, most of which will come from private sources. The Museum recently announced a $10 million gift – the largest in its history – from The Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The U-M Board of Regents recently voted to name the new addition the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing.


Museum attendance has risen by 50 percent since 1997, with more than 130,000 visitors in 2003. Construction will begin when fund-raising is complete. Plans are to break ground in 2006 with a projected opening of the expanded Museum in 2008, during centenary celebrations for Alumni Memorial Hall.


Allied Works Architecture, founded by principal Brad Cloepfil in 1994, completed its first new freestanding cultural facility in the United States with the September 2003 opening of the new Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. The University of Michigan Museum of Art project marks the firm’s fourth museum commission in the past five years. These include the controversial redesign of new quarters for the Museum of Arts and Design (formerly the American Craft Museum) at 2 Columbus Circle in New York City, and an expansion of the Seattle Art Museum.



(click on pictures to enlarge)

(Allied Works Architecture (c) 2004)
View looking east from State Street

(Allied Works Architecture (c) 2004)
View of east court and commons

(Allied Works Architecture (c) 2004)
Addition and west court

(Allied Works Architecture (c) 2004)
View of Forum looking south

(Allied Works Architecture (c) 2004)
Bridge gallery

(Allied Works Architecture (c) 2004)
Diagram of primary building elements

(University of Michigan Museum of Art)
Alumni Memorial Hall/University of Michigan Museum of Art

© 2003