With chunky massing and silvery, lightly crumpled aluminum cladding, Herzog & de Meuron's Walker Art Center expansion hovers over the sidewalk: a striking counterpoint to its adjoining neighbor, the center's original, decisively grounded, brick-clad structure, by Edward Larrabee Barnes. On its own, the 1971 Barnes building offered little space for public mingling outside its tranquil succession of pure, white, rectilinear galleries stepping up in a spiral. With few windows and a solidly opaque exterior, it remained architecturally quiet and self-contained. Yet as an institution, the Walker evolved into an exceptionally animated place, known for its risk-taking and discoveries of new talent. In 1988, the museum first pushed outward, creating a sculpture garden on its own grounds. But now, with Herzog & de Meuron's recent $70 million expansion -- doubling the total interior space from 130,000 to 260,000 square feet -- the container has begun to uncoil its tight spiral.
As if tossed out by centripetal force, a series of four skewed, boxlike structures, embedded in a broad glassy passageway, now extend up the hill from the Barnes building. The series culminates in the tallest volume -- the bulky block of ice -- rising five stories and housing the art center's new theater, restaurant, and event space.
"We knew we wanted to end up with one building -- not two parts," recalls Walker director Kathy Halbreich. "But it was essential for us to engage a practice that would respect the Barnes without being cowed by it." Instead of mirroring, engulfing, or grafting onto the original building, the Herzog & de Meuron scheme offers the new and the old as an almost casually strewn collection of eclectic yet related objects (all connected by the glass passageway).
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