Richmond, Virginia

Museum expansions designed by prominent architects often result in a new main entrance to the addition’s grand (and new) lobby/party hall. In many cases, this reorientation of the circulation gives visitors no visual knowledge of the original museum, while the ultra-spacious lobby offers few clues to the existence of the older structure.


Rick Mather Architects + SMBW’s 165,000-square-foot James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Wing for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond may have the de rigueur entrance and lobby/atrium, but it avoids the typical mistakes. As you arrive, you see the entrance facade on the north, as well as one on the east — which abuts the Georgian-style brick-and-limestone museum designed in 1936 by Peebles and Ferguson. More important, the museum has kept the older entrance open to the public.

On the west, facing the sculpture park, the expansion calmly meets the stalwart, rough-stoned West Wing that Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer (HHPA) added in 1985. Inside the new wing’s skylighted lobby/atrium, Mather has created vistas to older parts of the museum, many terminating in views outdoors.

Rick Mather, an American architect who transplanted himself to London in the 1960s, recently demonstrated his carefully serene approach to integrating old and new in his luminous expansion to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England [RECORD, June 2010, page 140].


The museum, which occupies a 131⁄2–acre state-owned enclave of historic buildings and gardens, wanted to add 40,000 square feet of galleries (28,000 square feet for permanent galleries and 12,000 square feet for temporary ones) to the preexisting 380,000-square-foot structure. To do so, it decided to tear down a non­descript wing, dating to 1976, for the new building, and renovate 45,000 square feet. In addition, the program called for a new restaurant, café, shop, and library, as well as a 9,500-square-foot conservation lab.


Visitors enter a lofty two-story hall that perpendicularly meets a three-story skylighted atrium. Crossed by glass bridges and pierced by a glass elevator, this light-filled vertical and horizontal spatial nexus directs visitors to old and new parts of the museum. New galleries are straightforward, with 14-foot ceilings and oak floors, although some are given traditional detailing to better frame certain collections for this substantial repository.

The exterior retains the scale and proportion of the older buildings — and on the garden elevation, it seems to play off the rhythms and scale of HHPA’s brawny architecture with smooth glass voids and light limestone masses. The Indiana limestone panels of Mather’s wing cantilever up and down from the floor plates uninterrupted by perimeter columns; this curtain wall system allows continuous bands of horizontal glazing to extend around corners.


The planes and lines of Mather’s well-composed Modernism connote an architectural genealogy dating to the International Style. Admittedly the color and texture of the limestone panels are bland, and they lack the heft of the older buildings. Yet inside the entrance hall and lobby/atrium, the combination of skylights, bridges, and stairs successfully integrate the new museum with the old. Here, the effortless spatial deployment of glass, steel, and black granite against the gentle curves of the atrium’s north wall creates a compelling centerpiece for the entire complex.

Total construction cost: $150 million

Gross square footage:
165,000 square feet (new); 45,000 square feet (renovated)

Completion date:
May 2010

Rick Mather + SMBW


Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Rick Mather + SMBW

Rick Mather Architects
123 Camden High Street
London, NW1 7JR
Tel:+44 207 2841727
Fax:+44 207 2677826

403 Stockton St, Suite 200
Richmond, VA 23224
Tel: 804-233-5343
Fax: 804-233-5345

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
London - Rick Mather Architects
Principal, RIBA: Rick Mather
Project Director, RIBA: Peter Culley
Technical Director, RIBA: Chris Wood
Architect, RIBA: Juliet Aston
Architect, RIBA: John O’Shea
Architect, RIBA: Fiona Sheppard
Architect, RIBA: Do Janne Vermeulen
Architect, RIBA: Andy Wakefield
Architect, RIBA: Matthew Wickens

Richmond – SMBW Architects
Principal AIA: Louis Wolf
Project Architect AIA: Andrea Quilici
Project Manager AIA: Fred Hopkins
Project Landscape Architect ASLA: Stacey Hurt Farinholt
Architect: Ron Wolfe
Architect: Yalin Uluaydin

Architect of record: Rick Mather + SMBW

Structural Engineer:
Dewhurst MacFarlane (UK)
Hankins Anderson Consulting Engineers (USA)

Atelier Ten (UK)
Hankins Anderson Consulting Engineers (USA)

Landscape: Olin

Lighting: L’Observatoire International

Acoustical: Polysonic Corp

Other:  Façade Consultant
Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners
Wis Janey Elsner

Cost Consultant:
Hanscomb Faithful & Gould (USA)
Gardiner and Theobald (UK)

General contractor:
The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company (Building Expansion)
Kjellstrom and Lee (Parking Deck)
Daniel and Company (Sculpture Garden)

Bilyana Dimitrova Photography

Renderer(s): Rick Mather + SMBW

CAD system, project management, or other software used:
MicroStation, AutoCad (drawing)
Prolog (project manager)



Exterior cladding
Structural Glass curtain wall:  Manufactured by Eckelt, Austria, installed by Enclos Corporation

Structural Glass sealants: Dow corning, GE

Indiana Limestone Rainscreen: Quarried and fabricated by Bybee Stone, installed by Enclos Corporation

Precast concrete: Allied Concrete Products, LLC

Metal Panels: Centria

Moisture barrier:
Alexander Waterproofing Co., Inc
Volclay bentonite
Advance hydrotech

Custom Stainless Steel Exterior Canopies Schickel

Built-up roofing:  Roof Services of Virginia, Corporation

Glass: Eckelt

Skylights: Architectural Skylights. Installed by Enclos Corporation

Other:  Atlantic Sun Control – interior shading to renovation areas
Verosol – interior solar shading to new building

Entrances: J E Berkowitz

Interior Metal fire doors: Total Door

Wood doors: Algoma leaf, maiman frame

Sliding fire doors: McKeon Rolling Steel Door Company, Inc

Custom sliding partitions: Modernfold.   

Stainless steel grilles: Hendrix

Locksets: Blumcraft

Closers: Dorma, Tormax automatic door operators

Exit devices: Blumcraft, Dorma, Vonduprin

Pulls: Blumcraft

Security devices:  Separate Contract – Check with VMFA

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Sto Silent Acoustic Plaster (atrium, café, restaurant, boardrooms, lecture hall)
Hunter Douglas Techstyle (education center)

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: TMS, Richmond

Paints and stains: Shermin Williams

Wall coverings: Drywall - USG

Paneling: custom wood paneling – TMS, Richmond

Solid surfacing: corian by Dupont – Café servery, various counters

Special surfacing: white marble, Colorado Yule by Polycore (entrance and ticket counters, various parapets)

Floor and wall tile:
Nordic Black Granite – atrium and lower level flooring
Val Verde limestone, upper level flooring both by Polycorp
Ceramic tile; daltile

Resilient flooring: Johnsonite, Allstate

Carpet: WEL custom color axminster weave for public areas, Shaw  - offices, back of house areas.

Raised flooring: American White Oak solid flooring – Costin

Exterior Ipe - Costin

Office furniture: Knoll, various

Reception furniture: Knoll – Saarinen, Bertoia

Chairs: Karim Rashid at Nienkamper, Knoll various designers

Tables: Knoll

Upholstery: interior solar blinds by Verosol

Retractable Upholstered Seating: Audience Systems

Custom steel interior fabrication – 1” thick welded staircases, bridges – Globe Iron, VA

Acrylic Spray Applied Intumescent paint to architectural elements – Carboline

Interior ambient lighting: Edison Price, Cooper, Electrix LED systems, sirius, ETC, Color Kinetics

Downlights: Edison Price, Lightolier, Bega, Louis Poulson

Exterior: bega

Dimming System or other lighting controls: Lutron Dimming Systems

Custom glazed Elevators: H&B, Minnesota

Watercoolers / fountains: sunroc

Urinals: Toto

W/C: American Standard

Wash hand basins: American Standard

Energy management or building automation system:
Low velocity displacement ventilation system for air supply to all primary spaces
Low ‘e’ structural insulated glass units fabricated by Eckelt.
High performance opaque exterior back up wall panels manufactured by Enclos.

Semi Mature Trees- Chinese Lace Bark Elms Shady Grove Nursery, SC
Peruvian beach pebbleSupplied by Luck Stone