LEVENBETTS tapped by Queens Museum for final phase of expansion project

A Solid Betts

LEVENBETTS tapped by Queens Museum for final phase of expansion project

The Queens Museum at Flushing Meadows–Corona Park. (Scott Rudd)

The Queens Museum (née Queens Museum of Art) has announced that LEVENBETTS, a Manhattan-based architectural practice with a wealth of experience helming cultural projects across New York City and beyond, will lead the final phase of a $69 million expansion project at the museum’s longtime home within Flushing Meadows–Corona Park.

Speaking to AN, Queens Museum Chief Operator Office Debra Wimpfheimer praised LEVENBETTS as being “respectful to our community, our architecture, and the work that we’re doing.”

Selected for the Queens Museum expansion project via the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC)’s Project Excellence Program, other recent LEVENBETTS projects of note include multiple branch renovation efforts for Brooklyn Public Library, including the Red Hook, East Flatbush, and Borough Park branch locations; the Zoid Pavilion at Art Omi, a nonprofits arts center spread across 120 acres in Ghent, New York; and a pavilion and housing study for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. In Queens, the firm is working on an affordable senior housing project in Forest Hills and the Baisley Park Library.

“Our commitment to architecture in the public realm aligns with the Museum’s mission of art, education, and outreach to local communities,” said Stella Betts, who serves as cofounding partner of LEVENBETTS alongside David Leven, in a statement. “We are excited to create an inclusive architectural space for art and public programs that engage critical issues and speak to the communities served by the museum.”

Led by Grimshaw, the first phase of the transformative expansion and renovation effort at the Queens Museum was completed in 2013 and saw the storied outer borough institution, home to the famed Panorama of the City of New York, expand its footprint by 70 percent. While that capital project yielded a large swath of new exhibition space, the forthcoming expansion phase led by LEVENBETTS will focus largely on museum-wide energy-efficiency and operational upgrades along with $6 million in accessibility enhancements. The project will also generate much-needed art storage facilities and, last but not least, create a new Children’s Museum.

The museum’s glass brick south facade will also be rehabilitated as part of the sweeping capital project. That facade, described by Wimpfheimer as a “disaster,” hasn’t been touched since the 1930s when the historic structure was first erected as the New York City Pavilion for the 1939­–1940 New York World’s Fair. Post-World’s Fair, the pavilion was renovated and served a brief stint from 1946–1950 as temporary home to the United National General Assembly. In the early 1960s, the structure was renovated yet again to serve its original function as the New York City Pavilion for the 1964–1965 World’s Fair. In 1972, a portion of the old pavilion became home to the Queens Center for Art and Culture (later the Queens Museum of Art, now the Queens Museum); another section of the old pavilion was converted into an ice-skating rink operated by NYC Parks. The next major alteration didn’t come until 1994 when Rafael Viñoly led a dramatic reconfiguration of the storied space at Flushing Meadows–Corona Park.

Like with the Grimshaw-led first phase expansion and renovation project, this final round of work, which will see the footprint of the museum grow by an additional 10,000–11,000 square feet (or potentially a bit more), is managed by the DDC.

While it now serves as the centerpiece of the Queens Museum expansion project’s final phase, the planned Children’s Museum represents a considerable switching of gears. As Wimpfheimer explained to AN, a new branch of the Queens Public Library was initially envisioned as the anchoring element of the concluding expansion phase; the idea for the children’s museum came to fruition later in the process after the Queens Museum’s current executive director Sally Tallant came on board in 2019, replacing Tom Finkelpearl. Queens Public Library had also experienced a leadership transition and the idea for a branch location at the museum was nixed.

“When Sally came on, she did a lot of listening and had conversations with stakeholders in the community and the board, thinking about what the space could be used for, and came up with the children’s museum idea,” Wimpfheimer explained. “She [Tallant] conceived it as an ‘intergenerational, multilingual family learning center.’”

“The space will be designed to be a flexible, compliant workspace for kids and adults—we’re imagining messy maker spaces—and classrooms, which the museum desperately needs as right now we only have two,” Wimpfheimer added, noting that roughly 25,000 schoolchildren visited the museum annually prior to the pandemic and only two classrooms is not nearly enough to accommodate multiple visiting school groups per day.

While the LEVENBETTS-led expansion is in the early schematic design phase and concrete plans are still being fleshed out, Wimpfheimer said that the museum hopes to add five new dedicated classrooms spaces as part of the planned Children’s Museum. “Everything we’re doing around the Children’s Museum is centered around education and coalescing all of the education spaces into one area,” she explained.

The final expansion phase began coming together throughout 2018 and 2019, but it then—just like with countless other major capital projects—hit a snag during the pandemic. The final expansion phase was put on hold as the city, particularly Queens, reeled from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and the beloved cultural institution switched gears to become a vital community resource during the darkest days of the crisis, offering COVID testing and vaccinations in cooperation with New York Health and Hospitals and organizing community giveaways to distribute necessary goods to those in need during the pandemic and during the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. The museum also co-hosts a popular Cultural Food Pantry, which launched in June 2020 and continues to this day.

The final expansion phase of the Queens Museum is slated to break ground in 2023 or 2024; AN will provide design updates as they are announced.

“I can’t think of a larger and more beautiful space in Queens, and we really want to welcome people here, said Wimpfheimer of the museum’s location at Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, which, once upon a time, was the site of a rather famous coal ash dump. “And we think that the Children’s Museum is going to help us to do that. We’re constantly learning from our communities about what they want and constantly thinking about how we can create a space that’s the most accessible and available to people.”