sense of space: The Clark’s new Stone Hill Center.
Clark Art Institute’s new conservation center is an aesthetic—and
up in Chicago amid the work of such great architects as Daniel
Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ludwig Mies
van der Rohe, I was keenly aware of how architecture influences
a locale. Little did I know that later in life I would be
living in the shadow of the Empire State Plaza. (Yikes!) But
fortunately, the “Bilbao effect” has reached within 50 miles
of Capital Region. Not only do we have Frank Gehry’s Richard
B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College,
but now we also have Tadao Ando’s Stone Hill Center on the
campus of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, which
I visited on June 20 for its grand opening preview.
Ando, who was at the preview, has designed buildings all over
Japan, but only two others in the United States. He is well
known for taking advantage of both natural light and the landscape.
Given the beauty of the Berkshires, he was a great choice.
Built into a hill south of the main building, the Stone Hill
Center can be reached either by road or by landscaped paths
that wind through the woods. Upon first approach, Ando’s virtuosic
orchestration of cedar, concrete, glass and steel is readily
apparent. Ando is often compared to Louis Kahn and here, as
with many of Ando’s projects, the modernist influence is quite
evident. Ando explained that he uses materials that give a
sense of unity and balance. He is meticulous about details
and is keenly aware of such elements as the thinness of a
door, the way a grey wash blends with the green outdoors,
and the way that natural light affects space.
Clark director Michael Conforti explained that the building
is primarily a space for the Williamstown Art Conservation
Center, and that it will set the standard for what a conservation
space should be. While the conservation areas are physically
closed to the public, they are visually exposed by a great
expanse of windows along the northern side of the building.
Not only does the northern light help conservators with their
work, but the windows reveal the intensive behind-the-scenes
work that goes on in a conservation lab. There are labs for
painting and paper on the top floor, and on the lower level
are labs for furniture, objects, and analysis. The lower-level
labs, a meeting room, and an office surround a courtyard that
has a dramatic rectangular aperture cut out of it for light
and for views. The courtyard is triangular and adds an accent
to a terrace on the entry level that also affords a mountain
view. Besides the terrace and courtyard, there are other public
spaces including two galleries, a cafe, and a classroom.
Currently on display in the Stone Hill Center galleries is
Homer and Sargent from the Clark. These gallery spaces
are intended to give the viewer a more pure experience of
the art, but I had a hard time concentrating on the paintings.
I was distracted by the amazing architectural spaces. Each
gallery has a window that looks out onto a roofed patio. While
one window faces west into the woods, the other faces north
and affords a perfect view of the contemplative space that
is this particular patio. If you veer off the path when approaching
the building, you can stand or sit on this terrace. But if
you continue along the designated path, you will approach
the building from the side and will notice a wall impeding
your view of the entrance. According to Ando, this wall functions
as a space of serenity. It allows you, once inside of it,
to be more aware of the natural space beyond.
The Stone Hill Center is only the first phase of the Clark’s
campus enhancement and building expansion program. The plan
includes a renovation of the current main building, a visitor
center, a reflecting pool, and a space at MASS MoCA. On its
own, the Stone Hill Center is a meditation of form, light,
simplicity, and harmony, so don’t wait until the rest of the
project is complete to see it.