The Museum of Fine Arts' (MFA) new Arts of Americas wing opened last weekend, and I was lucky enough to spend last Friday morning previewing the extension before it opened to the public. I received the invitation because I spent a day, about a nine months ago, helping them test the handheld interactive audio/video guide they were developing for the new wing. I wish it was exclusive as all that might sound, but it was actually pretty packed. I had to wait in line. No red carpet for me.
[my way in.]
The major challenge of a project like this is to create a new identity for an institution without eclipsing its past. This is certainly easier said than done, especially with an old institution in an even older hidebound and traditional city like Boston. I went into this visit expecting to be sort of bored by the muted confidence and competence I have come to expect from Foster+Partners, but I was happy to find that the extension managed to both fit in with and, more importantly, take full advantage of the project’s latent opportunities to actually enhance the existing structure. The extension occupies the eastern courtyard space of Guy Lowell's original 1909 design, and the enormous 63-foot tall glass lobby and cafe space that dominates the scheme allows the visitor to experience the original building in a new way.
By turning the previously semi-enclosed courtyard space into the glass-enclosed setting for the new wing’s grand hall, the architects use the visual connection created by the lobby's transparency to employ the existing structure as an element in the creation of a wholly new type of space for the museum and city. This new space collects both the old and new into a single setting that allows the museum to look forward without forgetting its past. I quite liked it.
I was only there for about an hour or so, and I would suggest you also check out Lian's
more comprehensive take on the project, if you haven't already.
[one of two huge baby heads at the new fenway entrance.]
[very cool model boat room. brought out my inner 13-year old.]