The purpose of the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) was to completely renovate and modernize the existing Alumni Hall, a 40,362 square foot facility, and build an additional 53,452 square feet of space in a dramatic new wing. Located at the gateway to the University’s main campus and at the physical intersection of the University and local communities, the Museum rests in a location offering the potential for direct engagement between the Museum, the student body and the general public.
The opportunities and constraints were clear from the beginning. UMMA had the opportunity to reinvent and repurpose itself to change students’ perception of what it was, how it served them and why they should become engaged. The expanded facility itself would be central to the message of welcome and inclusiveness and help place visual arts at the center of campus and community life. Expanded open hours would bring the arts to the reality of how people live their lives and experience art in the 21st century, especially in an environment of vital, young adult energy.
As a teaching Museum with broad, near universal goals, the institution serves as a forum for the various academic disciplines of the University as well as a cultural portal for the community of Ann Arbor. While the existing building provides an atmosphere of seclusion, the new architecture was forged in response to powerful existing forces of history and movement that act upon the site. Rising above the surrounding walks and lawn, the building is formed by three forty-foot cantilevered walls of concrete and limestone. These radiating arms of structure reach out to hold three distinct landscape rooms: to the south, a new entry court with Alumni Memorial Hall; to the east, a cloistered sculpture court; to the north, a courtyard and pathway to the heart of campus. Shells of steel and glass mediate the space of the courtyards, filtering light in to the galleries and circulation spaces. These veils of structure orient visitors by framing views to the landscape as they move through the Museum, and animate the courtyards by revealing the activity within. The steel shells distinguish the public and private domains of the building while unifying the exterior and interior with light and life. In contrast to the mass and solidity of Alumni Memorial Hall, the new building is open and transparent at the ground floor. Students moving along the Diag’, a primary path through central campus, are invited to use open storage areas, a conservation lab, curatorial library, a café, and a 185-seat auditorium. A three story ‘vertical gallery’ defines the heart of the building; it forms a periscope of space that draws views into the galleries above and unifies the experience of the collections with unexpected orientations and associations to the art.
As the first purpose-built facility for the visual arts at the University of Michigan, the expansion becomes a new gateway to the historic museum – an open and inviting space that orients students and visitors to the experience of the art within.