Queens Museum of Art
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, New York
Grimshaw’s recent renovation of the Queens Museum of Art involved the task of unifying a previously divided building under a single program. The institution used to share its walls with an ice skating rink. The museum occupied the north half of the building—originally constructed as the New York pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair—and the rink the south half. When, in 2008, the rink moved into the newly completed Handel Architects–designed Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Natatorium and Ice Rink, which was part of New York City’s 2012 Olympic bid, the museum had the opportunity to stretch out, occupying the entire 105,000-square-foot building for the first time since being founded in 1972.
The architects saw the opportunity to greatly improve the museum’s somewhat confusing circulation scheme, as well as support its mission of bringing the community together around art. By shifting the main entrance away from where it had previously been off the north parking lot, at the narrow end of the rectangular plan, to the center of the longer west facade, they were able to usher visitors directly into the building’s cavernous central volume. By arranging temporary exhibition galleries around this space, which functions as a large works gallery, the architects created an easy to navigate experience where figuring out where to go next is simply a matter of looking around.
Glass played a key role in supporting Grimshaw’s design concept and in creating a bright and airy experience on the interior. Both eastern and western faces of the building were opened up with glass walls that let daylight in, welcome the community, and create a view corridor that passes straight through the space from the Grand Central Parkway to the Unisphere—the great, globular icon of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The west facade features a screen that can be animated by a color-changing LED system. A variety of artists will be invited to program the system over time.
Even with the glass facades, the large works gallery, with its soaring ceiling, promised to be a dark space. This could be solved with skylights, but then skylights, without control measures, can create tricky daylighting conditions for museum artifacts, many of which deteriorate in direct sunlight. In addition, the architects wanted to create a seamless experience, where visitors could go from outside, into the great hall, and then into the galleries without perceiving the difference in light level. “On a bright day, it’s 10,000 foot-candles outside,” said Mark Husser, managing partner for Grimshaw’s New York office. “We had to step that down to about 15 foot-candles in the galleries, and we attempted to do that without having a noticeable change or a lot of glare or shadow.”
In order to accomplish this effect, Grimshaw designed what is unofficially referred to as the “Hanging Lantern,” a daylight chandelier of sorts composed of canted glass louvers suspended by stainless steel cables around the great hall’s central skylight. The glass louvers, which range in width, are built up from two 5mm-thick pieces of low iron tempered glass that are laminated together with an SGP interlayer. The down facing sides of the louvers are acid washed, to catch and diffuse daylight, while the up facing sides are left glossy, to make them easier to clean as well as to create a shimmering effect on the inside of the lantern. The edges of the glass louvers are polished, post lamination, a delicate process that removed a mere 1/64-inch of material to clean up the edges and create a sparkling, diamond-like effect. The louvers are canted at different angles to catch sunlight entering from the skylight, which also features louvers, and direct it to the galleries, whose ceilings are outfitted with louvers of their own that further diffuse the light. “We did sun studies to determine the angles of the louvers,” said Casimir Zdanius, Grimshaw’s head of industrial design. “When direct sunlight hits the pieces of glass they light up like a halogen.”
Grimshaw designed the Hanging Lantern, which combines daylighting and structural design, with consulting engineer Michael Ludvik. The tempered glass louvers, which handle some structural loads, are attached to inner and outer sets of steel cables that drop down from the ceiling with machine finished 304 stainless steel connections. At the bottom of the lantern, which hangs more than 31 feet down from the ceiling, is a ring beam made up of 6-inch-diameter solid steel billets fastened together with heavy-duty bolts. At 20,000 pounds, the ring beam pulls the cable system into tension. While the 8mm-diameter outer cable carries most of the load, the 6mm-diameter inner cable attaches to the ring beam via a spring connection that allows the pendulous structure to sway without breaking the glass. The inner cables are also tuned to achieve a sensuous curving profile on the inside of the lantern.
Grimshaw also designed a glass-treaded feature stair that encourages access to the second floor and provides a series of landings that offer a good view of the large works gallery and the Hanging Lantern. The landings and treads are composed of four piles of ½-inch-thick low iron annealed glass laminated together with SGP interlayers. The upper surface features an acid etched non-slip surface and the structure was designed so that even if all four piles break the interlayer will continue to carry the live load. Annealed glass was chosen, as opposed to tempered, so that the edges could be polished down flush without shattering, a detail that gives the edges of the treads a jewel-like translucency.