and landscape in harmony: Tadao Ando’s plan for the
Clark Art Institute.
design star Tadao Ando is renowned for his Japanese-influenced
architectural philosophy, one that “integrates edifice with
environment by utilizing light and space in dynamic sequences.”
The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., the only major
art museum in the world not in an urban setting, is beloved
for its bucolic Berkshires campus. The combination—Ando is
designing the Clark’s expansion project—is an exciting development
for art and architecture buffs near and far. Earlier this
month, the Clark unveiled its “reconceptualization” with a
two-gallery exhibit that illustrates the museum’s plans for
the dramatic expansion-renovation-enhancement project. The
expansion includes a striking new building, a large-scale
water feature, and improved amenities such as a new restaurant
and a café with outdoor seating. The project also encompasses
plans, by Reed Hilderbrand Associates of Watertown, for improved
access to the museum’s scenic walking trails. “It’s really
a marriage of architectural vision and landscape vision,”
says museum director Michael Conforti. “We wanted to make
the landscape as important as the buildings.”
The Ando-designed visitor center will be a two-story structure
of glass and granite formed from three rectangles and an outdoor
terrace. Replacing a 1965 building, the center will increase
gallery space by 50 percent without enlarging the museum’s
architectural “footprint”—most of the structure will exist
below ground. Greater natural lighting will come from Ando’s
signature courtyards and light wells. “It’s unusual that with
140 acres, we’re tearing down a building,” says Conforti.
“It shows our commitment to the quality of the landscape experience.
That’s the attraction, and we didn’t want to spoil it by adding
large-scale architecture to our existing buildings.” The center’s
galleries will allow the Clark to exhibit works, such as historical
paintings, that were difficult to display before, as well
as making space for a rare-book room. A red-granite wall will
integrate the structure with the museum’s 1973 red-granite
Ando had been selected by the Clark a full year before his
design for the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, made
him an architectural supernova in the United States. “I met
him some years ago, in Osaka, and he was always in my mind,”
says Conforti. After a month-long formal search, the Japanese
designer was selected over four other finalists. “Because
he works in a subtle fashion, he was the only appropriate
architect for our project,” asserts the director. An exhibit
on Ando’s celebrated career, which runs through April 27,
is on display at the Clark.
Ando also designed a grand glass entranceway for the museum’s
famed white-marble building, a “temple of art” designed by
Daniel Perry in 1955. “The façade will stay exactly as it
is while this major entrance reorients the campus away from
the streetside,” explains Conforti. “It relates to the whole
reconceptualization. You won’t drive in between two buildings.
You’ll drive around back and park, and as you walk in, you’ll
see the water and the hill.” A new parking lot will provide
additional parking spaces while lessening the appearance of
paving. Ando’s design for a 1.5-acre reflecting pool, situated
on the old parking lot, will unify the three buildings and
connect the 140-acre uplift with the campus below. “It’s probably
the most important part of the whole project, and the public
has responded to it incredibly positively,” says Conforti.
The director describes the pool as being more like a pond.
A series of water cascades will “make a sound like a stream
running through the woods,” adding to the emphasis on nature.
In winter, the pool will be frozen for ice skating.
Unlike most expansions, which address growth first and aesthetics
second, for the Clark, it was the other way around. Conforti
says the project’s inspiration was a simple one: They wanted
to create a garden. “When people come to the Clark, they often
come from afar, and they want to stay a longer time. People
enjoy the landscape—the views from our hills are spectacular,
the best in northern Berkshire county—and the museum wanted
to enhance that,” he explains. “We took a bunch of programmatic
needs and placed them in this reconceptualization of the landscape.”
Conforti adds that Ando and the landscape associates are not
only working together, but have taken trips together to Japan.
Construction on the first phase, estimated at $15 million,
is scheduled to begin next year. “We see this as taking over
a decade,” the director says of the multi-phase project, adding
cheerfully, “but we’re patient.”
In the meantime, visitors can view the project through the
exhibit, which features models, maps, a film, and an eight-minute
virtual walkthrough. The project exhibit is on display until
early autumn. Tadao Ando: Architect runs through April
27. The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is located
at 225 South St., Williamstown, Mass. Call (413) 458-2303
for more information.