David Chipperfield Architects: Saint Louis Art Museum
Saint Louis Art Museum by David Chipperfield Architects is home to one of the most comprehensive art collections in the US and is located in the city’s recently restored Forest Park. The original and main building designed by Cass Gilbert was built as one of the exhibition pavilions for the St. Louis World’s Fair, held in 1904. Five years later it became the new home for the city’s art collection and was renamed the City Art Museum.
Significant growth in the collection over recent years, combined with the ever-growing size of contemporary artworks and the need for increased parking provision below ground as part of the park’s restoration, led to a major new commission to improve the museum.
The new building – the East Building – respects the position of the Cass Gilbert original as the focal point in the park, and presents itself as a single-storey pavilion. In its footprint, the pavilion steps out and back in four directions from one point, keeping its visual impact on the immediate surroundings and its wider environment to a minimum.
The pavilion establishes two connections through existing south-east and south-west doorways at this unifying level, respecting the existing axiality. The East Building accommodates the museum’s modern and contemporary art collection, together with temporary exhibition spaces, a new museum shop and a significant dining space.
Four large floor-to-ceiling windows provide views towards the Grand Basin, the park and the newly landscaped garden. This landscaping is an important aspect of the project and features a new arrival, a forecourt and sculpture gardens that blend into Forest Park. The façades are panelled with dark concrete containing local aggregates that are cast and polished on site, lending the pavilion a solid presence among the trees.
The pavilion is topped with a concrete coffered ceiling spanning the entire space. In addition to its role as a structural grid, it modulates and filters daylight into the spaces. The system works as a result of the depth and colour of the coffers and the layering of materials in between: translucent glass on top and a multi-layered light diffuser below.
Images courtesy of David Chipperfield Architects