After over four years of construction, Kentucky’s oldest and largest art museum has
reopened. Louisville’s Speed Art Museum, now nearly twice its former size, has just finished its new North Pavilion and remodeled the interior of its 1927 neoclassical building. The addition was designed by Los Angeles and New York–based wHY with local architecture firm KNBA. Selected from an open RFQ and eight team shortlist, wHY beat out Bernard Tschumi, BIG, Gluckman Tang, Henning Larsen, SANAA, Snøhetta, and Studio Gang for the commission. This 60,000-square-foot expansion is wHY’s second new construction museum project in the United States and the first major cultural building completed by its New York office.
Although additions were made to the original museum in the 1950s, 1980s, and 1990s, it has never seen a renovation of this scale. In this latest overhaul, the museum gains more permanent contemporary and modern art spaces, multimedia galleries, a new light-filled lobby, and an improved youth art education area.
The fully fritted glass exterior of the new wing holds traditional white-wall galleries, as well as spaces left with exposed textured concrete for more flexible or unconventional art installations. The new galleries take greater advantage of natural light than the older building and have open layouts for guests to wander and explore. Newly remodeled galleries in the original building carry the theme of the new wing throughout the museum. Along with these galleries, there is a new outdoor sculpture garden and a 142-seat cinema for the museum’s new “Speed Cinema” film program.
wHY describes its design approach as Acupuncture Architecture™. This comes from its goal of activating the original structure from multiple points. The approach included allowing the public, and in particular the neighboring community from the University of Louisville – Belknap’s campus, to experience the entire museum in new ways. To achieve this, public amenities—cafe, shop, cinema, etc.—were decentralized and made accessible both indoors and out. A suspended bridge from the new wing reaches into the original building’s Grand Galleries.
The most notable new space is the open ground level, which includes an entry hall, an auditorium with indoor-outdoor capabilities, and a bright double-height lobby. Suspended from the lobby’s ceiling, a 675-pound steel sculpture by artist Spencer Finch welcomes visitors.
The opening of the museum included a free 30-hour party with performances, discussions, and screenings. Thanks to a recent one million dollar gift from the Brown-Forman Corporation, the museum will be free every Sunday for the next five years.