At a small gathering at his Manhattan office today, Thomas Phifer unveiled his firm’s design of the $64 million expansion of the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY. Construction will begin tomorrow and is slated for completion in 2014.
The design consists of a 26,000-square-foot addition — a new "North Wing" — to the original L-shaped International Style 1951 building designed by Harrison & Abramowitz; the transformation of a swath of concrete currently used for bus parking into 8,000 square feet of green space (designed by Reed Hilderbrand); and the renovation of an iconic ventilator building (with a roof that resembles the horns of a bull) next to the museum, which once held the Steuben Glass factory. The ventilator building will become the new home for the museum’s popular demonstrations and will accommodate 500 spectators with a mezzanine-level balcony and arena seating.
The North Wing Facade
The Ventilator Building
The Corning campus, about 4.5 hours by car from New York City, has grown and evolved since 1951, with an addition by Latvian-American architect Gunnar Birkerts designed in 1976 and completed in 1980; another completed in 2001 by Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects; and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s renovation of an existing warehouse into a research library in 2001.
“[Phifer’s] North Wing expansion completes a master plan we didn’t know we had,” said Robert Cassetti, the museum’s manager of education and creative services.
Section through new galleries and Ventilator Building.
Working early on with a team that included Arup (lighting) and Guy Nordenson (structural), Phifer learned that, unlike oil paintings, for example, “light is not the enemy of glass.” Since all of the objects on display sit on the floor, Phifer designed a series of five connected, curved-wall galleries within a rectangular shell — rooms within a room.
A bird's-eye view of the new galleries.
The galleries receive daylight that filters down between structural concrete beams from skylights above. These beams sit on top of 20-foot-tall plastered, poured-in-place concrete walls that meet buffed concrete floors. The walls are hollow and hide mechanical systems. Visitors will be able to walk around the perimeter of the galleries and see views of the new green space through a 150-foot-long window on the north façade.
Thin glass louvers will hang perpendicular to the façade of the new wing. The louvers will both absorb light and reflect the surroundings.
The building doesn’t shout,” said Phifer. “It wants nature to be the star of the show.”
The idea for the museum, founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) was inspired by the Glass Center erected at the 1939 World’s Fair. The Center was a collaboration between Corning, Owens-Illinois Glass Company, and Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company and it housed one of the most comprehensive glass exhibitions at that time. The Corning Museum, designed to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary, is now home to 45,000 glass objects spanning 35 centuries.
The Glass Center at the 1939 World's Fair. Image courtesy San Jose State University.
The popularity of the museum continues to grow – it is the most visited museum in New York State after New York City’s museums and most visitors stay four hours at a time. Museum directors wanted to be able to provide more contemplative space, more galleries for its growing collection of large-scale contemporary pieces, and more room for live and hands-on demonstrations. Several architecture firms were interviewed, but the choice of Phifer was unanimous, said Museum President Marie McKee. Corning gave $64 million for the expansion.
All images courtesy of Thomas Phifer and Partners unless otherwise noted.
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