Construction begins on Memphis Brooks Museum of Art by Herzog & de Meuron and Archimania

Breaking Ground in Bluff City

Construction begins on Memphis Brooks Museum of Art by Herzog & de Meuron and Archimania

Herzog & de Meuron broke ground on the new Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis. (Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron)

This past June, shovels broke ground on the new Memphis Brooks Museum of Art by Herzog & de Meuron and local Memphis firm archimania. The recent groundbreaking marks an important step for Tennessee’s “largest and oldest” art institution after it announced an international design competition in 2019 to replace its existing building, fraught with a slew of usability issues, with a new, modern facility. That year, Herzog & de Meuron and archimania beat out proposals by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro; OMA; and Johnson + Marklee to design the $180 million project.

Upon its 2026 expected opening, the new Memphis Brooks Museum of Art will accommodate 112,000 square feet of exhibition space; a 175-seat theater; and a “generous” courtyard to function “as a central public space in the heart of [the] newly formed museum block,” a press release from Herzog & de Meuron stated. Museum officials note that the new building will have 50 percent more gallery space and 600 percent more “art-filled public spaces” compared to the existing Brooks Museum of Art completed between 1955 and 1989 over a long series of expansions.

View of the courtyard at the new Memphis Brooks Art Museum.
The courtyard provides a partially shaded, flexible space for both programmed and spontaneous events and gatherings. (Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron)

As of June 2023, museum leaders also claim they’ve raised 75 percent of the budget needed for the new Brooks Museum of Art’s completion. “Memphians invested $100 million in their new art museum before seeing a single rendering,” Zoe Kahr, the Brooks Art Museum’s executive director, enthusiastically told local reporters at the recent groundbreaking ceremony. “Tennesseans committed another $35 million to their oldest and largest art museum before construction began. Today, together, as we break ground on Memphis’ art museum, I know the excitement has only just begun,” Kahr continued.

View of theater seating at new Memphis Brooks Art Museum.
The suspended theater volume will serve as a projection screen for outdoor screenings. (Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron)

Previously, Kahr was deputy director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) but left the West Coast in 2022 to help oversee the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s transformation. To augment the Museum’s impressive Renaissance and Baroque paintings collection, Kahr has expressed her commitment to inviting local Memphis artists from diverse backgrounds and internationally renowned figures to display work. Kahr is currently looking to secure pieces by African-American artists Sanford Biggers, Rick Lowe, and Vanessa German for the new museum’s collection with support from the Joyce Blackmon Fellowship.

View of the rooftop at the new Memphis Brooks Art Museum
The rooftop features a custom-designed timber structure to activate the museum’s top level. (Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron)

After a century in the city’s historic Overton Park neighborhood to the east, the new Memphis Brooks Museum of Art was moved to a more accessible downtown location on the Mississippi River to invite the public “back to the waterfront,” the design architects claim. The new, “porous” slab building will be cladded in masonry designed to recall “the warm earthen hues of the exposed clay along the Mississippi River.” An exposed timber pavilion sits on its roof scape, providing ample space for the public to enjoy the top level’s lush, panoramic views.

View of promenade at new Memphis Brooks Art Museum
The promenade is designed to facilitate improved pedestrian access between the city center and the waterfront. (Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron)
View of the Mississippi River from the new Memphis Brooks Art Musuem
The “porous” building is designed to provide stunning views of the Mississippi River for the public. (Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron)

The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s transformation is part of a wider initiative officials have undertaken to stitch together the city’s historic core with the Mississippi River, a geographical feature that was cut off from the Central Business District in the 1920s by Riverside Drive, a four lane city street. Today, the Memphis Waterfront is bustling with other projects by big name design firms to make the amends. Studio Gang, SCAPE, and Chicago-artist Theaster Gates teamed up with the Memphis River Parks Partnership to build Tom Lee Park, a $60 million project to reinvigorate the city’s “long neglected waterfront,” which is set for completion this September. The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is expected to shortly follow in 2026, providing leisure and cultural amenities for Memphians for years to come.