April 23, 2004

Johnson Plans New Underground Wing

Print More

With over 90,000 visitors last year and over 30,000 items in collection, it may be easy to see why the Johnson Museum Advisory Council recommended an addition to the museum as part of its latest five-year plan. It may also be easy to see why a panel of three museum consultants from Harvard, the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin saw the need for an addition as well.

According to the museum director Frank Robinson, an extraordinary opportunity was that I.M. Pei and John Sullivan’s ’62 original design of the museum called for an underground extension to the north end of the building.

“We began to think of I.M. Pei and the original plan,” Robinson said.

The plan involved creating an underground extension, which would lead beyond the road on the north side of the building eventually reaching the gorge and having large viewing windows which looked out onto it. The extension was not approved due to budgetary constraints.

Today the original plan poses some other problems.

“Now you wouldn’t want to spoil the gorge,” Robinson said.

The compromise, according to Robinson, would be the incorporation of elements from the original design without impacting the beauty of the gorge.

Though the plans have yet to be approved by the University, the museum has been in contact with Pei’s architectural firm.

“They are thrilled at the idea of doing it,” said Robinson, referring to both Pei and Sullivan.

The extension would add 10,000 to 12,000 square feet to the museum.

“This new wing would have three main functions,” said Robinson.

First would be new gallery space. Either one or two more galleries would be constructed with “sensitivity” to contemporary art.

The second function would be an open storage space. This concept is modeled upon the Henry Luce centers at the New York Historical Society and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where students or researchers could look through hundreds of works with relative ease. Currently the Johnson has many items in storage which are not readily accessible.

Robinson added that the open storage space would enable the Asian Gallery to be opened up, because part of that gallery space is currently taken up by storage space.

The third use of the new space would be for educational programming. Currently the space for educational programming is limited to a workshop room for about 15 or 20 people.

“When we want to do a lecture or class section we have to close a gallery, it’s an awkward way to do things,” Robinson said.

The cost of the project, as estimated by Robinson, is approximately $11 million. Already the Johnson Museum has raised $4 million. However, if the University approved the project, a considerable effort in fundraising would have to take place over an estimated span of a year.

Construction would take about two or three years. Robinson added that there would be minimal disruption to the museum’s events with the exception of both the possibility of some of the lower rooms being closed to due to construction and the Asian gallery being closed for renovation.

“The new wing itself will not have an effect on operating budget at all,” Robinson said.

The $11 million cost includes an endowment, which would incur the costs of maintenance once the new space is open.

Archived article by Ted Van Loan
Sun Staff Writer