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10.11.2010
Gwathmey's Parting Gesture at Crocker Art Museum
The Sacramento museum unveils one of the final projects designed by Charles Gwathmey
The simple geometric forms are arranged to create a double-height entry rotunda and galleries generously lit by saw-tooth skylights.
Bruce Damonte

Yesterday, Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum unveiled its new expansion by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates of New York. At 125,000 square feet, the $75 million addition becomes a new architectural identity for the oldest art museum in the West. Yet it also represents one of the last major works by Charles Gwathmey, who passed away last summer.

“Charles said that everyone has a little bit of a desire to be an architect, and he wanted everyone to have that experience,” said Lial Jones, director of the Crocker. “He was very open to taking ideas from others and it was a terrific collaboration.”

The new structure is interconnected with the Crocker's two Victorian buildings.
Brian Suhr

The firm has been responsible for several other high-profile museum expansions—most famously, an addition to the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Guggenheim in 1992—and was selected to prepare a masterplan for the museum in 2000. At that time, the museum’s main display space was the portrait gallery in one of its two 1860s Victorian buildings, which meant that over 95 percent of its 15,000-item collection was sequestered away in storage, including an extensive collection of master drawings.

Connections between the addition and the victorian buildings are reinforced by dramatically framed views.
Bruce Damonte

On the exterior, the new structure is a massing of simple geometric forms. Interlocking cylinders create a dramatic double-height entry rotunda. “Because the new building is three times the building we were connecting to, we tried to break down its scale, expressing it as a series of mini-buildings using zinc, white metal panels, and glass, so that it didn’t appear as one big bulky mass,” said Gerry Gendreau, the project architect. “We tried to develop a dialogue between the modern and historic elements in the most sympathetic way we could.”

An expansive glass wall faces a courtyard between the new and historic structures.
Bruce Damonte

To bridge the contemporary addition with the interconnected Victorian buildings, the firm worked to match up the floor levels. To that end, it sunk the auditorium below grade, placed the administrative offices on the second floor, and placed the galleries on the third. The 35,000 square feet of galleries are primarily daylit, using sawtooth skylights. To showcase the old gallery’s ornate form, the entrance leads to a hall with a 120-foot-long window wall that frames the historic building across the courtyard.

Lydia Lee