Close Up


Ever since Corning Glass Works, now Corning Incorporated, established itself in its namesake town in upstate New York 164 years ago, glass has been the economic, cultural, and artistic lifeblood of the rural hamlet. When the Corning Museum of Glass opened in 1951, the mystique of glass extended well beyond residents of the picturesque region. Last year, annual attendance at the continually expanding museum (the original Wallace Harrison building was added onto by Gunnar Birkerts in 1980 and Smith-Miller + Hawkinson in 2001) rose to 440,000—almost comparable to the annual number of visitors at the St. Louis Art Museum, for instance, in a city whose population is 30 times that of Corning's.

Glass is both soft (in its raw state) and hard. It is incredibly strong, yet extremely fragile. It can soak up light or shimmer in its presence. It has practical, decorative, and architectural applications. Thomas Phifer recognizes all that. As architect of the new Contemporary Art + Design Wing, which opened in March, he, more than any previous designer of the museum's sprawling complex, fully exploited glass's unique properties.

The new wing's one-story, 26,000-square-foot gallery space—the largest in the world devoted to the exhibition of contemporary glass art—features softly curving concrete walls encased within a crisp, seamless glazed vitrine. Its innovative design, where glass panels transition from rainscreen to window, maximizes glass size to create a skin with very few joints. Overhead, impossibly thin concrete joists look delicate but support the vast steel and glass roof (see sidebar). While mimicking the qualities of glass, these strategic building elements also cater to its display.

Although horizontal light hitting a glass plane makes it appear dark, according to Phifer, daylight pouring in from between those slender roof joists “brings it to life.” Recalls the architect, “We learned fairly quickly that glass art is not harmed by daylight. We were doing a very different museum here.” Phifer's office worked with Arup to modulate daylight within the space, which, on average features 200 to 300 footcandles when combined with fixed electric illumination, and on a particularly sunny summer day can reach as high as 500 footcandles. (By comparison, galleries that exhibit paintings are usually kept at around 30 footcandles.)

And, unlike paintings that hang on a wall, the large, contemporary glass artworks on display, 117 in all, mostly sit on the floor or are suspended from the rafters above. This gave Phifer the freedom to design those sinuous concrete walls, 20 feet high and cast in place. The overall effect is that of a cloud, where the colorful glass objects stand out against the muted background—surfaces blur into each other, and specks of sunlight passing through an occasional transparent skylight panel travel across them.

Financed entirely by Corning Incorporated, the new wing features the company's famous Gorilla Glass, which composes the ultrathin barriers surrounding all of the large-scale sculptures and installations. The damage-resistant and optically pure glass—found in 2.7 billion cellphones, tablets, notebooks, and other devices—is being used for the first time in this capacity. “It's the kind of material that just vanishes because it's so clear and thin,” says Phifer.

The experience of the new wing is vastly different from the rest of the galleries, where glass objects from earlier eras are exhibited in dimly lit rooms, and exterior glass walls are covered by curtains. “It was the ethos of the time to keep galleries darker,” says Tina Oldknow, senior curator of modern and contemporary glass. The new wing is located on the north end of the completely connected complex and immediately adjacent to the main admissions lobby, where guests arriving by car enter. (Bus groups enter on the opposite end of the lower level.) Visitors—who, museum research has found, are overwhelmingly drawn to contemporary works—are encouraged to start in the new structure and then finish the loop through the other buildings. “Reading the end of the book first works for us here,” explains Oldknow.

Along the way, visitors will also pass through the ventilator building of the former Steuben Glass factory, designed by Harrison in the 1950s and renovated by Phifer to accommodate retractable seating for 500 for glassblowing demonstrations and glass-design sessions. The rest of Phifer's 100,000-square-foot project—which at $64 million is fairly economical for a museum building despite its groundbreaking envelope and structure—includes office space below the gallery and a boardroom overlooking it.

The Contemporary Art + Design Wing may be the most recent among Corning's collection of modern glass buildings—and Tom Phifer the latest in its roster of high-profile architects—but it is not destined to be the last. Just as a spirit of invention drives the Fortune 500 company, Corning's enlightened patronage of both art and architecture will surely continue to shape the small town it calls home.


Set in Concrete

Corning Museum of Glass Contemporary Art + Design Wing

Encased in glass, the gallery space of the new Contemporary Art + Design Wing at the Corning Museum of Glass is defined by its stunning structural elements. Liberated from the requisite straight walls for displaying paintings and works on paper, architect Thomas Phifer introduced curving concrete interior walls early in the design process. Within them would sit the large sculptural glass art from the museum's permanent collection, top-lit by daylight streaming in from the mostly glass roof.

Structural engineer Guy Nordenson, who had also worked with Smith-Miller + Hawkinson on the previous museum renovation and addition, suggested a series of deep beams that would both filter daylight in and hold up the roof. Inspired by Sverre Fehn's Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (1962), where transparent roof elements are suspended between similarly slender rafters, Nordenson's solution features 3½-inch-wide and 4-foot-deep precast concrete joists positioned 3 feet, 2½ inches apart. The spacing was calibrated based on input from daylighting consultant Arup. “We had to strike a balance so that enough light came through to illuminate the works, while managing glare and overall brightness,” says Arup associate Matt Franks.

Almost all of the 200-plus high-strength beams, composed of 10,000 psi concrete, have a unique geometry, given their varying spans (between 6 and 55 feet) and connections to the irregular serpentine walls. Fabricating those elements was a challenge. Quebec-based Béton Préfabriqué du Lac (BPDL), whose product can be seen in projects as diverse as the new Yankee Stadium and the new Whitney Museum of Art, was the only precaster willing to take it on. “Typically, just one face of a precast element needs to look good,” says Guy Bouchard, BPDL project manager. “Here, three sides are visible,” not to mention prominently featured in the pristine gallery space. BPDL used a single mold for the different shapes, pouring the concrete vertically over 1½-inch-thick steel rebar for a smooth finish all around.

The challenge for Nordenson's office was predicting the behavior of those beams, since the standard methods for determining the resistance of steel, aluminum, and timber structural elements do not extend to reinforced-concrete beams. “Calculating how well these beams would support the loads without buckling was made much more complicated, because concrete will crack,” explains Nordenson. A system of thin steel purlins runs perpendicularly over the top of the precast roof joists to provide lateral bracing.

While glass lies at the heart of all things at the Corning Museum, in this case, the concrete skeleton plays an equally important, and highly visible, role. JM


Corning Incorporated

Thomas Phifer and Partners
180 Varick Street
New York
New York 10014
Tel: 212.337.0334

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Thomas Phifer FAIA, Director
Gabriel Smith FAIA LEED AP, Director
Adam Ruffin, Associate Director
Katie Bennett, Associate Director
Remon Alberts
Bethany Mahre
Brad Cooke
Mo Gagnon
Gerry Gendreau
Eric Ho
Isaiah King
Brad Kingsley
Joanna Luo
Stephen Varady
Colin Ward

Guy Nordenson and Associates

MEP and Fire Protection Engineer:
Altieri Sebor Wieber

Climate Engineer:

Civil Engineer and LEED Consultant:
O'Brien & Gere

Landscape Architect:
Reed Hilderbrand


Daylighting and Lighting:

Acoustical and Audio Video Design:
Jaffe Holden

Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

Environmental Graphics:

Theater Design:
Theatre Projects

Stuart-Lynn Company


Spec Writer:
Construction Specifications

Construction Management:
Gilbane + Welliver

Iwan Baan
Photographs by Iwan Baan ' Corning Museum of Glass


100,000 square feet

Project Cost:

$64 million

Completion Date:

March 2015



Structural system
Cast in Place Concrete Serpentine Gallery Walls
Exterior Steel Frame at Gallery Perimeter
Precast Concrete Joists at Gallery Roof
Purlin and V-Gutter Steel Structure below skylights
Non-Gallery Core Spaces are Steel Frame & Steel Decking
Amphitheater Hot Shop ' Existing structural frame and roof trusses, Architectural Steel and Concrete Composite Structure at Theater Mezzanine

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
The Precast concrete joists at the gallery building roof were fabricated by BPDL.
The Skylight Roof system and steel purlins were fabricated and installed by Linel.
The Cast in Place Serpentine Concrete Walls and Slab were formed and poured by Streeter Associates.
The Steel Erector was Rochester Structural, responsible for the complicated structural tie-ins to existing construction.

Exterior cladding
Granite Paving at Gallery Perimeter Base and Site: Edger Enterprises

Metal Panels (on North of Connector Building):
Gitzen Companies, installed by Welliver McGuire

Metal Panels (on West Elevation of Gallery Building):
Americlad Quality Metalcrafts, installed by NEC

Metal Standing Seam Solid & Perforated Panels (on Amphitheater Hot Shop and West Connector):

Custom Glass and Aluminum Rain Screen and Cladding System (Gallery Building):
MBM Konstruktionen (engineering & fabricator of metal parts), Thiele Glas (glass fabricator), installed by National Enclosure Company

Metal/glass curtain wall (on replacement curtain wall systems at existing interfaces):
Sterling Glass

Rain Screen Wall:
Composite Metal Panel System at back of house roof portions only: Gitzen Companies

Precast concrete roof joists:

Moisture barrier:
Grace Perm-A-Barrier Self-Adhered Membrane

Other cladding unique to this project:
Gallery Skylight System: Linel

Exterior Wall Insulation:
Thermafiber Mineral Wool

Built-up roofing (on Amphitheater Hot Shop):

EPDM at the core spaces & connector roofs by Carlisle SynTec Systems

Morin Panels (on Amphitheater Hot Shop)

Interior Boardroom Window:

Interior Boardroom Window Glass:

Exterior Glass:
Thiele Glas fabricated the glass, the raw material was supplied by Scheuten

Viracon fabricated the glass, Linel engineered, fabricated, and installed the skylight system

Insulated-panel or plastic glazing:
Linel engineered and provided insulated metal panels that are a part of the skylight system.

Kawneer supplied the group entry doors at the East Connector (installed by Welliver McGuire), Kawneer provided the replacement doors at the East Admissions replacement glazing (installed by Sterling)

Metal doors:
NEC installed the egress doors on the West Fa'ade of the Gallery Building. Cladding supplied by Americlad Quality Metalcrafts.

Special doors:
Upswinging doors, other: Bi-Fold Doors by Schweiss, Metal Cladding on doors by Americlad Quality Metalcrafts, cladding installed by NEC


Besam Assa Abloy

Exit devices:
Von Duprin


Security devices:

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Epic Metals

Suspension grid:
Accent Ceilings

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Roscoe Brothers

Paints and stains:
Cook Painting

Custom Interior Metal Perforated Plates at Gallery Portals:

Gallery Interior Metal Panels and Custom Extrusions:

Interior Gallery Wall Plaster:
J & A Plastering & Stucco

Plastic laminate:

Solid surfacing:

Floor and wall tile:
Dal Tile

Resilient flooring:


Gallery floor grilles:

Gallery concrete flooring:
DJ Rossetti

Office furniture:
Herman Miller

Fixed seating:
Jezet Retractable Seating at Amphitheater

Herman Miller

Herman Miller

MechoShade Systems

Gallery Custom Casework:

Gallery Custom Casework Glass:
Corning' Gorilla' Glass

Interior ambient lighting:


Dimming System or other lighting controls:

Custom Fixture:


Sloan Faucets
Elkay Drinking Fountains

Energy management or building automation system:

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Radiant Floor by Watts Radiant, supplied by Emerson Swan