In 2013 the Saint Louis Art Museum opened its East Building addition designed by London's David Chipperfield Architects. Recently eMagazine Editor in Chief John Hill visited the building, filing this report.
The entrance to the East Building and the Panorama Restaurant face the Grand Basin on the north through a glass wall that is shielded by a cantilevered glass cornice. ( Photo ©: Aaron Dougherty )
Dedicated in 1876 and the site of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, Forest Park is easily the most important landscape in St. Louis, the Midwestern city's version of Central Park. Forest Park is a place of recreation and learning for residents and visitors alike, with a zoo, history museum, golf course, municipal theater, tennis center, and other amenities within its 1,374 acres. The Saint Louis Art Museum is housed in a grand building designed by Cass Gilbert for the 1904 World's Fair. More than 100 years later, British architect David Chipperfield added the East Building, which quietly respects its predecessor and orients glass walls toward important parts of the Forest Park landscape.
On the south, the East Building opens up to an entry plaza and new sculpture garden. ( Photo ©: Aaron Dougherty )
Dark concrete acts like a large "reveal" where new meets old. ( Photo ©: Aaron Dougherty )
Chipperfield's addition, though at odds with Gilbert's neoclassical edifice, respects it in a dark and reflective palette of smooth concrete and glass and by keeping a low profile. The new galleries are kept on one floor and sit above a 300-car parking garage. Visitors arriving by car either ascend directly into the entrance hall of the East Building or walk down a corridor that leads to the 1904 building.
Stairs lead from the parking garage and basement level into the grand entrance hall of the 1904 Cass Gilbert building. ( Photo ©: Aaron Dougherty )
The lobby of the East Building, though not as grand as the 1904 building, is spacious and full of natural light. ( Photo ©: Aaron Dougherty )
Although the windows of the addition are limited to one expansive wall per cardinal direction, the entrance hall and galleries are full of natural light coming from skylights above the concrete structure that defines the ceiling of each space. Really, as soon as one enters the new building, Chipperfield's whole design is laid out right there: the concrete grid, walls that follow the grid, diffuse skylights, and wood floors that provide some warm relief from the white and gray surfaces.
Diffuse natural light enters the galleries through the skylights above the concrete structure. ( Photo ©: Aaron Dougherty )
The spacious galleries culminate in large windows that overlook parts of Forest Park. ( Photo ©: Aaron Dougherty )
Departures from the rigid design happen at the large windows, one per cardinal direction. The north window is given to the entrance and restaurant and looks toward the Grand Basin; the east window looks down the hill toward the Saint Louis Zoo; the south window overlooks the Kennedy Forest in the park's southwest corner; and the west window looks directly onto the museum's south terrace and new sculpture garden. Rather than just serving as end walls of the large galleries, Chipperfield provides narrow rooms with benches by the windows, inviting visitors to take a break and look outside. Skillfully, the coffers above these narrow rooms are solid, so the light coming from the walls does not compete with light from above.
In this case the large window frames the south entrance to the Cass Gilbert building. ( Photo ©: Aaron Dougherty )
Andy Goldsworthy's Stone Sea sits in a gap between old and new. ( Photo ©: Aaron Dougherty )
Another departure occurs in a narrow, below-grade space between old and new that is occupied by Andy Goldsworthy's Stone Sea
, a site-specific commission made as a series of limestone arches. The lower-level corridor from the parking garage to the Cass Gilbert building provides windows onto the installation, a surprising confrontation with art that is much different than the paintings and sculptures in the more traditional galleries upstairs. While the East Building is full of light and well-scaled spaces that serve the art well, it is an unrelenting design (it's no wonder Chipperfield is renovating
Mies van der Rohe's Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin) that benefits from the windows on the park and could benefit from more surprises like the insertion of Stone Sea
in an otherwise empty space.