Starchitect-Designed Museum Scaled Down

Architectural duo Herzog and de Meuron have to rethink their designs for the Parrish Museum in Southampton, NY

The Parrish Art Museum, in Southampton, New York, has scaled back plans for an ambitious and expensive new building designed by Herzog and de Meuron. The project would be the fourth museum in the United States by the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss design duo of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.

The Parrish announced plans last summer for a new 80,000-square-foot building on 14 acres outside the town’s center. In an effort to reduce the price tag, which was estimated to exceed $100 million, the museum asked Herzog and de Meuron to reduce the building’s size to 63,000 square feet, and to divide construction into phases.

Although smaller in its realization, the architects’ basic design concept remains unchanged, says museum director Trudy Kramer, who just announced that she is retiring by the end of this year. Inspired by 19th-century artists colonies, a fitting choice for the Parrish, which specializes in paintings by American Impressionists and local artists, the architects envisioned a series of separate pavilions housing small galleries lit by north-facing skylights. Walkways will link these structures and the site would be unspoiled by automobiles thanks to a below-grade parking area.

Kramer explains that under the revised scheme, the height of some galleries has shrunk and under-floor supports, which were previously over-designed for heavier artworks and sculptures, have also been reduced.

But the key changes affect staging of construction. The first phase will encompass roughly 42,000 square feet of galleries, one of which will serve as temporary administrative offices, while a café and shop will occupy portions of the lobby. The second phase, totaling 21,000 square feet, would provide office space as well as dedicated pavilions for the café and shop. A possible third phase, including a larger auditorium, could expand the complex to 79,000 square feet.

The Parrish estimates that the first phase of construction will cost between $55 million and $60 million. While the museum has yet to begin a public capital campaign, Kramer says that it has raised $30 million in commitments from its board members. “Once we get shovels in the ground, more people will join us,” she confidently predicts. “People are ready for us to build and we have an extraordinary design.”

Pointing to the design’s uniqueness, Kramer refuses to concede the possibility that only the first phase of the museum will be built. “It has to do with how well the fundraising goes,” she says, “but we have to do it all. We’ll just phase it in even more if that’s what it takes.”

The first of construction is expected to finish in 2009, but there is no timetable yet for the later phases. In any event, when the building opens Kramer herself will no longer be at the helm of the museum.

“We have a stable board and a growing budget,” explains the 65-year-old. “I felt it was the right time for somebody with a more youthful voice and energy to take this project into the future.”

The Parrish, which has occupied its 26,000-square-foot building since 1898, is currently searching for a new director. When finished, its new building will be the fourth Herzog and de Meuron museum after the de Young, the Walker Art Center, and the Miami Art Museum, which is expected to be finished in 2010.

Reflecting on the architects’ plans for the Parrish, Kramer observes, “this is a very energetic, adventurous design and it needs somebody who’s far more energetic and adventurous than I am to see it through to the end.”

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