High Marks

The High Museum of Art and Woodruff Art Center with Renzo Piano’s campus expansion (rendering)

The Anne Cox Chambers Wing will house special collections. Image courtesy Barbara Ratner

The Wieland Pavilion and Piazza will serve as the museum’s main entrance. Image courtesy Barbara Ratner

Architect Renzo Piano recently unveiled plans for his expansion of the High Museum of Art and the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The complex, which will feature three new buildings adjacent to Richard Meier’s 1983 building, is slated to open November 2005.

Since Meier’s landmark was completed, the number of visitors to the High has risen to 350,000 and its membership ranks among the ten highest in the country. Piano was charged with creating an environment that would function as both arts campus and cosmopolitan center, providing visitors with a scarce bit of urbanity in suburban-sprawl Atlanta.

Piano says the focus of the expansion is to keep a growing institution human-scale. In addition to breaking up the museum’s 312,000 square feet into breezeway-connected parts, his revision includes “shaving” colonnades from the neighboring Woodruff Art Center. The goal is to create intimacy by deemphasizing monumental elements that might distance the visitor.

The new buildings are bright, light, and transparent. They include the Wieland Pavilion, which will serve as the Museum’s main entrance; the Anne Cox Chambers Wing to house special collections; and a new Administrative Center. All of the building feature glass-walled ground floor galleries that open up the High to passers-by and pedestrians on the piazza outside. A roof of 1,000 gently curved light scoops capture Northern light and filter it into the loft-like upper galleries.

The sculpture garden will feature Lichtenstein’s House III and Oldenburg’s larger-than-life fruit bowl Balzac Petanque , creating a sense of openness and conviviality. The architect envisions a metaphorical “removing of shoes” as one ascends from the life of the piazza to the more sacred, introspective space of the museum’s higher floors, a task he accomplishes by transitioning from glass walls to skylights, literally moving the focus up. Piano will clad his new buildings with white-painted aluminum panels, uniting them visually with the white-enamel facade of the Meier building.

Piano’s design provides both engaging public space and hushed spaces for the contemplation of art. The High has planned a retrospective of the crowd-pleasing painter Andrew Wyeth to inaugurate the adventurous new edifice.

The expansion will cost $130 million dollars—$85 million in construction costs, $15 million in High Museum of Art endowment, and $30 million in expansion and improvement costs for the Woodruff.

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