wHY Yes!

wHY Yes!

Courtesy Saatchi Gallery

The governors of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky have selected Culver City, California–based wHY architecture to design an expansion and renovation of the more than 80-year-old facility. wHY prevailed over an eclectic list of competitors, including SANAA, Gluckman Mayner Architects, Bernard Tschumi Architects, Bjarke Ingels Group, Snøhetta, Studio Gang, and Henning Larsen Architects. In their presentation, wHY said they would use an approach they call “architectural acupuncture" to bring life to the old building, according to principal Kulapat Yantrasast. 

Yantrasast and principal Yo-Ichiro Hakomori are best known for their well-received Grand Rapids Art Museum, the first LEED-certified art museum, and are currently working on the renovation of galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago. “They’ve been involved with an impressive number of museums considering their age,” said Charles Venable, director of the Speed. “They spent a lot of time here and could speak knowledgeably to everyone from the chairman of the board to the registrar about all aspects of how art museums function and are run.” 

why architecture’s grand rapids art museum (2007)
Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing

Located on the edge of the campus of the University of Louisville, the Speed, an independent, encyclopedic museum, is looking to raise its profile and draw more visitors, both from the university and the community. The current physical plant includes a 1927 Beaux Arts main building by the local architect Arthur Loomis, which has been added onto and renovated several times to create its current, somewhat incoherent, assemblage of spaces. “We want to respect the 1927 building, which is an excellent example of American Beaux Arts architecture,” Yantrasast said. “Other pieces may come down. It will be like surgery.”

Venable also indicated that the museum appreciates wHY’s approach to sustainability and site integration. Yantrasast said they are currently considering 20 to 30 landscape architecture firms to find a partner for the project. “Finding the right landscape approach is essential to binding the museum to the campus and to the city,” he said. And Venable added, “They can help us make the museum more efficient, which is important to our sustainability as an institution.”

In spite of the challenging economic times, Venable is confident about the expansion. “The economy cuts both ways," he said. "We’ve already seen prices fall dramatically as a result, and we know that this project will benefit from the finest possible materials and craftsmanship.” The museum has been quietly conducting a capital campaign for two years, and has secured a number of "very generous donations,” Venable said. 

The Speed expansion is the latest in a string of cultural projects in Louisville, including the 21C Museum Hotel, designed by Deborah Berke, and REX’s Museum Plaza, currently on hold. Philanthropists Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson are backing both 21C and Museum Plaza, and are supportive of the Speed expansion, according to Venable. The museum expects work to be complete in 2012.