Guide to museum glazing: 5 storehouses of treasure

The play of glass in the preservation of art, history
Nancy M. Davis, Katy Devlin, Jenni Chase and publicist Heather West of Minneapolis contributed to these profiles. Managing Editor Sahely Mukerji coordinated and edited the museum section.
September 1, 2005
COMMERCIAL, FABRICATION : CURTAIN WALL, PROJECTS, SKYLIGHTS, WINDOWS

Museums house antiques, treasures and heritage. They conserve history and tell the story of who we are. People visit museums to view exhibits, preferably well lit. Curators and visitors, however, express dramatically opposing views of what kind of light best illuminates exhibits in a museum. The trend runs toward natural light from large expanses of glass. Nearly every current museum renovation, expansion and new construction feature glass façades, curtain walls, panels and skylights to illuminate and bring life to art with natural light and add magic to interiors. The play of natural light through glass makes for dramatic insides and establishes continuity with the outside.

Different kinds of glass are being used in museum construction: insulating, laminated, low-emissivity, soundproof and self-cleaning. The following pages feature five recently built and renowned museums that use glass in their construction.

High-brow village square
Culture around an open-air plaza 
By Heather West

The High Museum of Art will more than double its size with the completion of a $130 million expansion and renovation.

The High’s current home opened in 1983 and was designed by architect Richard Meier of New York City. To accommodate the museum’s rapidly growing collection and increased visitation, renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano conceptualized “a village for the arts” with four new buildings surrounding a central, open-air plaza. When completed, the structures will house a main pavilion, a special collections building, an administrative office building, restaurant and dining areas, ample exhibit halls, and a parking garage.

Building on Meier’s appreciation for natural light, Piano relied heavily on direct and filtered light to illuminate “the magic about the museum.” Bringing to life this sunlit icon of architecture and art, specialty glazing contractor Harmon Inc.’s project team in Lithia Springs, Ga., worked with Atlanta’s general contractor joint venture Skanska-Russell and architectural firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent Inc., also of Atlanta.

Greeting the museum’s guests, 4,200 square feet of Pilkington Planar canopy crowns the main pavilion’s primary entry. For this and the other buildings’ street-level entrances, Harmon’s team installed three all-glass revolving doors and 46 leaves of all-glass doors. For inter-building access, four glass-enclosed pedestrian bridges connect the main pavilion to the museum’s original building and the special collections building.

Once inside, expansive, light-filled interiors welcome visitors to the pavilion’s lobby. The museum’s staff also enjoys comfortable, naturally lit, window views from their desks and meeting rooms in the office building. Catering to these amenities, Harmon provided approximately 29,000 square feet of curtain wall featuring PPG Starfire glass enhanced with Viracon’s low-emissivity insulating and laminated products.

Perhaps the most intriguing architectural aspects of the High’s exterior are its light scoops and rain-screen aluminum panel system cladding the museum’s exhibit halls. Although nearly hidden from view, the light scoops dot the roof with 1,000 small skylights shrouded with metal hoods to diffuse the direct sunlight into the galleries below.

While most of theses scoops are of uniform size, 60 required custom fabrication. Along with ensuring the proper angle for capturing the natural light, glaziers seamlessly blended these scoops into the building’s aluminum panel system running its four-story height.

“These panels are an essential element that complement the glass and glazing systems, while delivering on our customer’s vision for this signature space,” says Tim Ryals, Harmon project manager.

High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta, Ga. 30309, www.high.org
Cost: $130 million
Architect: Renzo Piano, Italy; Lord, Aeck & Sargent Inc., Atlanta
General contractor: Skanska-Russell, a joint venture, Atlanta
Glazing contractor: Harmon Inc., Lithia Springs, Ga.

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