Peter Kiewit Sculpture Garden Joslyn Art Museum

The Peter Kiewit Foundation Sculpture Garden at the Joslyn Art Museum is a 1.2-acre, campus-wide outdoor art space that creates a new dimension for the museums magnificent architecture and its collections.

The Museum had long envisioned extending its indoor galleries outside. The Peter Kiewit Foundation Sculpture Garden now comprises four discrete galleries encompassing over 1.2 acres. Within this relatively limited area, the challenge to the design team was to provide distinct settings for numerous and sizeable sculptural works, as well as contemplative art experiences for viewers.

The Joslyn Art Museum, Nebraskas principal fine arts museum since the 1930s, is hemmed in by public buildings and major roadways. Dodge Street, a major arterial roadway and arguably the busiest one in Omaha, forms the southern boundary, and to the east is Omahas Central High School whose football field used to be part of the Museums current campus. The Museums original Art Deco building was designed by John and Alan McDonald in 1930, and in 1994 it underwent a substantial expansion designed by Sir Norman Foster Partners in collaboration with HDR Architecture, Inc. Together, the original and expanded buildings create a monumental “sculpture,” with a grand staircase, bas-relief panels, a dramatic atrium, and massive pillars.

The new sculpture garden extends the galleries of the museum beyond its walls to display its significant sculpture collection within a landscaped enclave surrounded by a busy city, integrate the native landscape of the site with the framework of the museum. Maintaining the orthogonal organization of the museums interior spaces, the garden continues axes established by the building in a palette of granite and greenery, employing design elements of flowing water and stone walls to bring art, nature, and people together. Each of the four outdoor galleries reflects the rectangular shape of the galleries inside the museum and is framed by pedestrian walkways and carefully placed vegetation that complement each sculpture piece.

To buffer this precinct of art from the surrounding urban environment, a defining granite wall was used to extend a visual screen from within the garden to the busy street. The green stone for the landscape, Lake Superior Green granite, was selected to match the granite used inside the Museums atrium, connecting interior materials with the exterior. This stone was also used to encase the bases for the various sculptures, such as the Museums signature work of art at the Gardens entry plaza, a 15-foot high 5,000-pound bronze sculpture, “Sioux Warrior.” Most of the plant material is native and/or adaptive, with a red and pink color scheme reflecting the colors of the Georgian pink marble cladding on the Art Deco museum building.

The geometric heart of the new Peter Kiewit Foundation Sculpture Garden is the virtual extension of the atrium of the museum outside the building, to the east. This outdoor addition to the museum is defined by carefully-crafted specialty pavements that lead to the magnificent stone sculpture, “The Omaha Riverscape,” by American granite sculptor Jess Moroles. The centerpiece to the installation is a 118 foot-long, 26-foot-wide reflecting pool. The floor of the pool is 50 tons of Academy black granite, carved with a miniature river representing the Missouri River.

The sculpture comes to life with a continuous cycle as water fills the pool and is then drained down, simulating the rising and falling water levels of the river throughout the season. The meandering water feature is also equipped with a snowmelt system underneath the granite and embedded in the concrete base that allows the river to be seen, even during periods of heavy Midwest snow. Three 11-foot-tall columnar artworks in the reflecting pool, each made of a different kind of granite, are active pieces of sculpture, with water bubbling from their tops and trickling down to the pool below.

Moroles sculpture continues on the granite pavement east of the reflecting pool with a further segment of the scaled-down river. This connects to a pool of water that passes beneath a bridge-like driveway, and terminates at the sculptures primary water source, the Broken Earth water wall. The 26-foot-wide, 12-foot-tall Dakota mahogany granite wall releases water in a continuous cascade from its top. A neighboring water wall, the Sydney Cate Family Fountain Wall, does the same. This dramatic 83-foot-long, nearly eight-foot tall water wall separates the garden from the bustling high school campus to the east.

The new Garden provides open space for events, programs, classes, and educational opportunities and activities. Docent-led tours of the gardens and special daytime and nighttime family events are offered, along with plein-air art classes and workshops, video artworks and musical performances. The deciduous trees on the site provide summer shade and allow the winter sun to filter into the space. The outdoor lighting installation, which fell within both the museums fundraising budget and energy code exterior allowances, creates an inviting nighttime environment. Reflected ambient light is produced by uplighting trees from in-grade fixtures. Wayfinding in the garden is discreetly accomplished by uplights recessed flush into granite pavers. The various sculptures are typically illuminated from multiple angles, so that patrons may experience the artwork from different perspectives as they traverse the gardens pathways.

The design process for the Sculpture Garden was quite collaborative to produce the desired integration between the Museum, the artwork, and the landscape. With the client, the design team toured several outdoor sculpture galleries such as the Nasher in Dallas, and the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City. Meetings were held with the design team, client, and city for a year before ground was broken, including numerous collaborative meetings between the sculptors and Landscape Architects. The design team played a role in selecting where the art was to be placed and how the landscape design would complement each piece many of which the Museum already owned, and some of which, on a wish list, were procured through donations. After preliminary concepts were approved, the design team met with the client weekly.


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