Snøhetta breaks ground on Joslyn Art Museum expansion in Omaha

New in Nebraska

Snøhetta breaks ground on Joslyn Art Museum expansion in Omaha

Last week on July 27, Oslo-based architecture firm Snøhetta officially revealed its design scheme for an expansion of the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, on the same day it broke ground. The project, which Snøhetta is undertaking alongside local partners Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture (APMA), will also include the renovations of existing office spaces and the rejuvenation of three acres of public gardens on the institution’s grounds.

A landmark cultural asset in Nebraska’s largest city, the Joslyn Museum has stood in Omaha since 1931 when it was endowed by the widow of the late printing magnate George Joslyn. The institution’s current style is characterized by an original art deco building designed by the architects John and Alan McDonald, as well as a 1994 addition by Foster + PartnersSir Norman Foster’s first built project in the United States. Today, the museum houses the Phillip G. Schrager Collection of Contemporary Art.

Snøhetta and APMA’s central objective in devising the new scheme for the campus was to expand usable gallery space by one-third. The architects also sought to completely reconfigure the building’s entry sequence, moving the main point of access to Davenport Street on the northern end of the site. A new access road and raised sculpture garden will direct visitors to the museum’s primary entrance, which will be shielded from the elements by the protrusion of the galleries above.

Interior rendering of a white walled gallery at the Joslyn Art Museum with barrel vaulted ceilings
The upper-level galleries are designed to accommodate the museum’s growing art collection (Courtesy Snøhetta and Moare)

The southeast corner of the site has also been refashioned to render the museum more inviting to guests and passersby alike. A retaining wall will be lowered to reveal views of the original Memorial Building, its monumental staircase, and a new lawn with native plantings. 

The new building itself has a dramatic, curving facade that appears to float above granite garden walls, creating a striking contrast with the firmly planted bases of the campus’s two older buildings and evoking, in Snøhetta’s words, “the striking cloud formations that blanket the Great Plains as well as the deep overhangs and horizontal expression of regional Prairie Style architecture.”

The weightlessness of the addition will be accentuated by transparent glass walls on the ground floor which will enclose the museum’s new lobby, store, and multi-purpose spaces. The solid walls that envelop the upper-level galleries will be covered in precast concrete panels with rose-tinted hues, reflecting the Georgia Pink marble used to construct the Memorial Building in the 1930s.

Interior view of a stone walkway with spiraling spandrels above adorning the glass ceiling
View of the walkway connecting the existing Renzo Piano-designed Scott Pavillion with the new museum wing. (Rendering courtesy of Snøhetta and Moare)

Daylit galleries for the display of sizable portions of Joslyn’s expansive collection will be supplemented by new classrooms and gathering spaces, which the museum hopes will help foster new community connections. In the words of Snøhetta director and architect Kate Larsen, the transformation of the institution’s indoor and outdoor spaces will “create a beautiful and welcoming new front door to the museum, inviting in many generations to come.”

While Snøhetta’s most well-known museum project in the United States may still be its 2016 addition to the Mario-Botta designed campus of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the firm has been awarded a slew of similar commissions in the past year. 

In September 2020, the studio won a competition to design the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in the Badlands of North Dakota, just weeks before revealing its winning design for the El Paso Children’s Museum in Texas. Earlier this year, Dartmouth College selected Snøhetta to lead the expansion of its Hopkins Art Center, only weeks before another major university—the University of Texas at Austin—revealed the firm’s chosen proposal for its Blanton Museum of Art. Snøhetta has also amassed significant experience designing museums and galleries of all scales across Scandinavia and other parts of Western Europe.

According to a Snøhetta press release, the institution is slated for its post-expansion reopening sometime in mid-2024, prior to which the galleries will be closed to the public for about two years.