For a small, private educational institution, Colby College has assembled a formidable cache of American art, including work by John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, John Marin, and Alex Katz, among others. Because of generous donations, Colby's Museum of Art, established in 1959, has expanded several times. The most recent addition, the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion, a three-story, 26,000 square-foot-building, opened in July. Since much of the architecture at the current campus is predominantly red-brick, neo-Georgian, and dates to the 1930s, its choice of Frederick Fisher and Partners as the architect, seems unusual. The West-Coast -based firm's principal is identified with the so-called 'L.A. School' of architects that made its reputation in the 1970s with an ad-hoc, roughly casual, modern design.
But this was not Fisher's first building for Colby. In 1999, the architect, who knew several people associated with the museum, was asked to design the Lunder wing adjacent to the new pavilion. This earlier expansion added 9,000 square feet of exhibition space with a red-brick-and-gable design in an assuredly restrained manner. It fit into its traditional context without a fight.
Owing to his salutary relationship with the client, Fisher returned to the campus when Peter and Paula Lunder promised more than 500 works of art to the museum in 2007. With the newest addition, Fisher proposed wrapping the exterior walls in a smoothly abstract skin of glass. 'The museum board received it well,' Fisher recalls, 'although some were challenged by that idea. But they figured you could do it once on the campus.' (A neo-Georgian science building by Shepley Bulfinch Richardson + Abbott is going up across the street.) The Alphond-Lunder Family Pavilion is the fourth in the museum's galleries (including the 10,000 square-foot Paul J. Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz, designed by Max Gordon in 1996), and helps complete the enclave for displaying 8,000 artworks in 35,000 square feet of exhibition space. It also provides space for classrooms for the art department as well as administrative offices.
Fisher designed the southwest-facing entrance for the new steel-framed addition so that it would wrap around a small open terrace elevated from the street and marked by a three-part sculpture by Richard Serra. Entering the glazed lobby, visitors find additional art by Dan Flavin and Jenny Holzer. 'We wanted to make the lobby a casual, gathering place where students would come in because things are going on,' says Fisher. 'It would be a space that blurs the difference between an art gallery and a public area.' Fisher designed the new galleries as backdrops for the art, defined principally by white oak floors and thick free-standing removable partitions. The rear (north) wall angles inward to free up more space around the older Lunder wing to the northeast and to keep the interior exhibition spaces from seeming too static.
The fritted, low-emissivity glass wraps exterior walls to reflect buildings and trees in a way that gives the new wing a quietly shimmering presence. Indeed, the museum appears to be an inscrutable box: since art works tend not to do well when bathed in sunlight, a stairwell and corridors gird the perimeter, hiding the galleries inside. But the boldest museum display occurs outside the exhibition areas, in a circulation area on the east elevation, where a drawing by Sol LeWitt (#559), conceived in 1996, and redrawn in 2013, is mounted behind the glass curtain wall. By day, the LeWitt seems to be veiled in gossamer, owing to the fritting, but at night it turns into a large billboard, when illumination brings out its curved stripes of red, blue, and yellow with polychromatic flair. The combination of discretion and verve strikes an appropriate note for an arts pavilion at a New England campus.
Owner: Colby College
Brian E. Duffy Associates
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Lighting: Fisher Marantz Stone
Acoustical: Veneklasen Associates
Curtainwall: Gordon H. Smith Corporation
Waterproofing: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Specifications: Construction Specifications Inc.
CAD system, project management, or other software used:
Gross square footage:
Total construction cost: