The new east wing of the Saint Louis Art Museum won't open until June 29, but the museum just received its occupancy permit from City Hall last Thursday, which seemed like a great opportunity for museum administrators to give a tour to the local press.
No art has been installed yet, which meant the folks at the museum could show off the new galleries to an audience undistracted by painting and sculpture.
The new wing is actually a whole other building, attached to the original structure, designed by Cass Gilbert in 1904, by a grand staircase and a few less-grand corridors. (Fun fact: Gilbert also designed the Central Library, which has also been getting a makeover this year.)
It looks modest from the front, but the new building is actually a whopping 200,000 square feet, more than twice the size of the existing museum -- though most of that is parking garage, it still represents a 30 percent increase in gallery space -- and it extends a good piece beyond the back of Gilbert's building, as you can see in this model, currently on display in the museum's sculpture hall. (Note: The museum people do not appreciate any references to "the old building." It's "the Cass Gilbert building," and don't you forget it!)
Planning for the new building started in 2005, but it took a year for museum brass to figure out what kind of building they wanted and where they wanted to put it.
"The Cass Gilbert building is a grand pile," says Brent Benjamin, the museum director. "Whatever's here needs to stand up to it. It needs to be deferential, but with a character of its own."
In the end, they chose a design by the British architect David Chipperfield (though nobody appears to be calling it the Chipperfield building yet), and hired three St. Louis general contractors, Tarlton Corporation, Pepper Construction and KAI Design & Build, to work together to build it, with HOK as the architect of record. It cost $130.5 million, privately financed through a capital campaign.
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