Patience Pays Dividends

Patience Pays Dividends

The entrance to the David Chipperfield-designed expansion to the Saint Louis Art Museum, which will break ground next month.

After a one-year delay caused by the eruptions in the global financial market last year, the $130.5 million expansion of the Saint Louis Art Museum has begun preparation work and will break ground on Jan. 19.

London-based architect David Chipperfield designed the addition, which will add more than 200,000 square feet and provide new galleries, public space and a below-grade parking garage with a capacity for 300 cars. The area currently is a parking lot. The 105-year-old institution, one of only a handful remaining from the 900 buildings constructed for the 1904 World’s Fair, was designed by Cass Gilbert with Roman ruins of the Baths of Caracalla as inspiration.

The new expansion will increase the size of the museum—originally designed by Cass Gilbert—by 30 percent.

“We had initially planned to break ground in November 2008. It was the same time the financial markets were melting down worldwide. We thought it was prudent to step back,” Brent Benjamin, the museum’s director, said. “These projects have a very long planning period. Most people have taken a very long philanthropic stake.”

“A year later, as we look back, we feel we made a very wise and timely decision,” he said. “We understand the financial turbulence. We’ve had an additional year for pledge payments to come in. We’ve had time to confirm with our donors,” Benjamin said, noting that an additional $2.5 million has been pledged in the last year. Another benefit is that interest rates are at historic lows, and that the institution “got quite a competitive price on the contracting,” he said. The joint venture of Tarlton/Pepper/KAI is the general contractor.

A rendering of one of the new galleries.

The building has been changed many times, and the addition is intended to appeal to 21st-century sensibilities. “One of the criteria was that the building reference the architecture of our own time,” Benjamin said.

The sleek addition will be a dark, polished concrete and glass with Missouri river aggregate. It will feature skylights and huge windows. Part of the intention is to take advantage of the lush park setting with its many windows and bring the outdoors in. “That’s kind of wonderful to see it emerging through the trees,” Benjamin said. “The board very much wanted the design to take advantage of the site.” He hopes the new addition will entice people into the museum who would otherwise be overwhelmed by the edifice, including passersby, such as joggers and cyclists.

Inscribed in front of the museum are the words: “Dedicated to Art and Free to All.” Admission to the museum remains free.