From Quincy Street, you would never know that the overhauled Harvard University Art Museums, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, lurks behind the puritanically aloof facade of the neo-Georgian Fogg Museum. Even the long boxy volume of Renzo Piano’s addition, which hoists itself one-story above Prescott Street, behind the rear of the Fogg, doesn’t fully disclose its size, even with showy glass cubes poking out at either end. The Fogg is now just one of three merged collections that opened November 16. To accommodate a daunting array of competing programmatic agendas on a too-small site and survive a tortured history, Piano (working with local architect Payette) designed defensively, producing a design that is variously elusive, alluring, and insistent.
Piano was originally hired in 1997 to design a contemporary art branch for the Fogg Museum on a site along the Charles River. It succumbed to neighborhood opposition. Then planning began to upgrade the Fogg next to Harvard Yard, which the museum’s Director Thomas Lentz says “was a much beloved building nearing the end of its life.” The university also hoped to build new museum space in its planned expanded campus in Allston, and hired the Los Angeles architect Daly Genik to design it.