Cleveland’s Museum of Art recently completed a ten-year long renovation and addition project, restructuring the campus of attached buildings into a more cohesive whole and adding an expansive, sweeping glass canopy. Originally composed of a neoclassical building built circa 1916, the museum added onto the original facilities throughout the past several decades.
According to the museum’s director of architecture and design, Jeffrey Strean, the institution had several bits of buildings linked together without an overall comprehensive design left to the whole arrangement. Each building had its own mechanical system, so controls and maintenance proved difficult. More important, the museum did not have an ideal pathway for patrons to travel through exhibits, nor did they have any performance space that could be used for its own programming and by the public, as in other art museums.
Rafael Viñoly presented a concept to the museum’s board that was radically different than what it had initially planned. Viñoly’s plan is anchored by a social area located underneath an expansive glass and steel canopy roughly two times the size of the atrium originally planned. Additionally, Viñoly’s design called for nearly half of the museum’s existing buildings to be demolished, and for the museum to rebuild them into a more cohesive whole—a concept about $20 million more than what the board was expecting. After construction, delays, and economic turns during the 10-year project, the final costs totaled $350 million, according to Strean. “It just had so much logic and had a lot going for it,” said Strean of Viñoly’s design. “Now that we have opened, the public loves it.”
Going beyond just the public’s initial interests in the new building, the atrium’s performance space has become very popular since its completion last year. In one perspective, what is fantastic about the atrium is that it “brings the architecture inside,” said Strean, who compared it to the British Museum’s glass and steel canopy roof by Norman Foster. “We went through a period of experimentation with selecting the right kind of glass for the atrium,” said Strean. At first, fritted glass was considered and tested with several full-size mock-ups constructed at a glass factory in Munich. “Ultimately, the glass we ended up with was similar to that of the British Museum,” she said. “The space has made it through the heat of summer and the gloom of winter fine. I think we were successful.”