Richlite-clad museum expansion inspired by industrial context and Old West art collection.
Commissioned to craft an extension to the Antoine Predock–designed Tacoma Art Museum, Olson Kundig Architects sought inspiration in both the history of the site and the art collection itself. Located in the city’s Union Depot/Warehouse historic district, the museum is surrounded by brick buildings formerly dedicated to industry and transportation. “The new addition needed to respond to both the neighborhood context as well as the existing building,” explained design principal Tom Kundig. “It has clean lines that recall the existing structure but recalls more directly the natural, earthy materials found in the neighborhood.” In contrast to the stainless steel-clad original wing, which houses the museum’s modern art collection, the new wing—dedicated to the art of the American West—is wrapped in layers of Richlite sunscreens. “The addition’s use of exterior shutters references symbols of the American West—fences, filtered barn light, and railroad box cars,” said Kundig. “It’s fitting that the Haub Family’s Western American Art collection now sits at the westernmost terminus of the rail line established by President Lincoln.”
A new 30-foot-high canopy serves as the junction of the museum‘s old and new wings, and creates an exterior gathering space for museumgoers. “The intersection between the existing building’s modern collection and the new structure’s western art collection became the focal point of a new museum experience,” explained Kundig. Built from a combination of aluminum grating and stainless steel panels reused from demolished portions of the original structure, the canopy’s material palette mediates the gap between the architectural languages of the two spaces. It also suggests a seamless integration into the Predock-designed building, despite the fact that it is structurally isolated for seismic safety.
For the exterior of the new galleries, Olson Kundig chose Richlite, an earth-toned composite product made from waste paper and resin, both because it is locally manufactured, and as a reference to Tacoma’s lumber industry. The architects used Richlite in two forms: as panels for straightforward cladding; and as dimensional lumber to build overlapping sets of shutters. Comprising both fixed and operable screens, the shading system controls the amount of sunlight that enters the galleries and allows museum staff to adjust visibility into and out of the building. The moveable screen panels, each 16 feet 4 inches wide by 16 feet 6 inches tall, are controlled by a hand crank located in the lobby.
The Tacoma Art Museum expansion project held special meaning for Kundig, whose firm is located in Seattle. “Tacoma is an important part of our local community, so it was deeply important for me to create something significant in this place with so much history,” he said. “That the project is a Western art collection adjacent to a modern art collection, is incredibly exciting. It’s an opportunity to explore the similarities and differences in American art, to examine our history and contemplate our future.”