Brooklyn-based architecture studio SO–IL has been tapped to design a new home for the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) on the campus of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Although the museum itself was first established in 1926, the museum’s art collection—now numbering more than 15,000 works—has been housed in a section of Lawrence Hall, which served as the college’s first library building, since 1851. The current museum space has been expanded a modest handful of times, including in the 1920s and 30s and during the 1980s when Charles Moore led the design of a major, column-famous addition.
The forthcoming facility designed by SO–IL will be built on the former site of the old Williams Inn, which was demolished by Williams College in 2020, and serve as the first standalone facility for the WCMA. Per a press announcement, the new museum building will be designed as a “collaborative work environment” and offer “substantial” gallery space for the WCMA’s growing collection along with dedicated space for community gatherings and “facilities for easy access to collections for student, faculty, and visiting scholar requests.”
Williams College first announced “the many years in the making” plans for a new WCMA building at the Williams Inn site in October of last year.
“We are honored to be working with the Williams community to envision the new Williams College Museum of Art, a project the brings together our passion for the arts with our commitment to education,” said SO-IL co-founders Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg in a statement. “The new museum will connect the campus to the larger cultural ecosystem of the Northern Berkshires and provide an opportunity to advance innovative, sustainable building and museum practices, offering students invaluable expertise in responsible stewardship. We are tremendously grateful to be working alongside a team of the best students, faculty and professionals as we embark on this exciting endeavor.”
SO–IL was selected to develop the conceptual design for the new building by Williams College President Maud S. Mandel following the recommendation of a 12-person Architect Selection Committee, which initially considered a longlist of 40 national and international architecture firms before narrowing the candidates to a shortlist of four. “While the caliber and creativity of all the shortlisted candidates were awe-inspiring, SO-IL’s inventive and enthusiastic approach to our museum’s teaching mission stood out,” said Mandel. “We are confident we have made the best decision for Williams.”
“We are delighted to partner with an exciting new voice in the architectural field to create a design that captivates and educates the art world of tomorrow,” added WCMA Director Pamela Franks. “With SO-IL, we have a firm that perfectly matches the profile of our museum: deeply engaged with the arts and academics, committed to collaborating with students, connected to the Berkshires community, and sensitive to the beloved natural landscape of our region.”
As detailed by the College, today’s announcement was informed by a two-year planning and programming study conducted in consultation with Deborah Berke Partners. In parallel with design work for the new WCMA facility, there are also plans to launch a programming study of Lawrence Hall that considers the historic building’s “complementarities with the new museum and understand its full potential as an arts and academic space,” per the College.
The conceptual design process is anticipated to take eight months and at its conclusion will go before the college’s Board of Trustees for approval. Pending approval from the board, the project will proceed “in alignment” with the WCMA’s centennial of 2026–2027. AN will provide further updates once visuals and further details of the new building are unveiled.
The WCMA project isn’t the only major effort underway on the historic campus of the 229-year-old New England private liberal arts college; earlier this year, Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates shared its plans for its significant refresh and expansion of the Davis Center, a longtime hub of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Williams.