Walker, Minnesota Ranger

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Changes to the site include raising the grade of its sloping hill.
Courtesy HGA Minneapolis

Marking its 75th anniversary, Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center embarked on a large-scale overhaul of its main entrance and outdoor landscaping. Firms HGA and Inside Outside plan to “envelop the building in a carpet of green,” said the Walker’s executive director, Olga Viso. “We’re returning the building to the landscape, essentially,” said Viso.

The anniversary also kicked off a $75 million capital campaign aimed at growing the Walker’s endowment and funding the renovation, which is expected to be complete by Memorial Day 2017. Viso also announced two new appointments: Fionn Meade as artistic director and Nisa Mackie as director and curator of education and public programs. Viso called the two “a real powerhouse of programming.”

In plans for the new entryway and site redesign, a lush hill conceals a low-slung, glassy entrance. The Walker already boasts two bold buildings—Edward Larrabee Barnes’ stacked boxes, built in 1971, and a warped cube clad in aluminum-mesh panels, added in 2005 by Herzog & de Meuron. So HGA principal Joan Soranno said their goal from the start was achieving harmony.

 
Plans for the Walker’s site dovetail with a forthcoming overhaul of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. 
 

“We weren’t going to put a third charm on the charm bracelet,” said Soranno. “We wanted this project to really integrate with the park. So instead of doing an addition that pops out of the hill, we basically nestled it in.”

The massing also complements Barnes’ vertical building. Bronze cladding on the new entrance even references the original bronze-colored window details interspersed among the brown, plum-spotted brick throughout Barnes’ geometric tower. Rather than defer entirely to the existing conditions, however, HGA’s entry at times turns Barnes’ tower on its head.

“A lot of this conceptually is kind of yin and yang,” said Soranno. Where the 1971 building is a dense, opaque form, the new entry is completely transparent. Visitors will enter off Vineland Place, directly across from Minneapolis’ public sculpture garden. Guests will glimpse a cafe and main lobby before entering through a bright yellow vestibule with “a very high-gloss finish, almost like a luxury car,” according to Soranno. “It’s marking this moment of entry into this very special place.”

 

Inside, a horizontal 10-by-40-foot area for custom art installations enlivens the somewhat squat space, as do two skylights carved into the ceiling with gently sloping planes, collecting natural light and contributing to a sense of tension and release.

Most visitors, however, enter the museum through its below-grade parking garage. Previously the experience was a utilitarian march through a labyrinth of parking floors and access hallways. Now LED-backlit screens will advertise Walker shows and events while providing wayfinding for automobile-borne visitors. Once they exit the garage, they will be greeted by a through-and-through view of the outdoor spaces and sculpture garden, relieving some subterranean anxiety and helping to orient them, Soranno explained.

 

Outside, jagged and meandering paths slice across the slightly raised hill, echoing the “pummeled forms” of Herzog & de Meuron’s building. Small stands of native trees, each cluster a unique species—among them autumn blaze maple, ponderosa pine, and skyline honey locust—pepper the landscape, which resembles a natural amphitheater that should prove useful during the Walker’s regular outdoor events. By removing paver tiles and restoring green space lost during previous renovations, Viso said the design fulfills a deferred vision for the institution’s public campus.

“It’s designed for individual exploration, but it’s also designed for a great degree of programmatic flexibility,” said Viso. “We’re returning the building to the landscape. It’s really completing the vision for the whole campus.”

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