Posted on 10 February 2013.
Friday night, the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, still under construction, glowed orange from its choice spot at the intersection of Winslow Way and 305, like a happy, grinning jack-o-lantern. Inside about a hundred people milled around over the course of the evening, privy to a nonpublic sneak peek at what is to come.
Rendering of louvered facade.
Architect Matthew Coates gave mini tours of the still unheated, unfinished space, gesturing at different features and filling in gaps with architectural renderings. Coates explained to a small crowd the challenge of his assignment: “Most museums are black boxes. It’s rare to have windows and natural light” because of the stringent requirements for displaying and caring for works of art. But, he explained, the prominent positioning of this museum in the gateway to the island meant that he “couldn’t get away with designing an internal building. Transparency was required. It supports the mission,” which is making art accessible.
Architect Matthew Coates and Museum Executive Director Greg Robinson.
So he designed a curved outer wall of windows that angles out toward the street, as if reaching toward the cars and people passing by in the busy intersection. A supergraphic of the word ART partially blocked by concrete floats over the windows. The glass windows are louvered, and the louvers slowly change from open to shut and from vertical to horizontal depending on the sun intake, so the building too will appear to change. Coates happily described this as “creating a building that is alive.”
A view of the main gallery.
The louvres are also part of a well-designed plan to make this building environmentally low impact. Coates excitedly talked about the very likely possibility that the building will achieve LEED Gold status, making it the first museum to achieve that high-status national environmental benchmark in our state.
Part of the geothermal system.
The main reason it is in the running for LEED Gold is that Coates and his team of collaborators have devised low-impact ways of regulating light and temperature, the usual big drains in art museums. The automatic, rotating louvers will adjust the light entering all day long according to the building’s temperature needs. Carefully positioned skylights will allow natural, diffused light to flow into the main gallery without damaging artwork. Fourteen geothermal wells, some as deep as 400 feet, will pull up water from an underground aquifer and cycle it through a loop of pipes in the building either to heat or cool the inside, depending on the season. These wells will provide 80 percent of the building’s heating needs in the summer. Insulation made from recycled jeans denim (provided by Levi Strauss & Co.) will help maintain the building’s temperature. A photovoltaic array on the roof will assist with the building’s energy needs.
Denim jeans insulation.
The main brain behind the geothermal heating and cooling system is museum board member Ralph Spillinger, who just so happens to be retired from a career that included 25 years in the Navy and 11 years with NASA as that organization’s Manager of Design and Construction. Coates says he was relieved when Spillinger volunteered to oversee that part of the design. Spillinger says he took on the challenge when he sensed “that they wanted to do it right.”
The still-unconstructed main staircase will eventually bring visitors up to the main gallery floor, which will feature the sunny Cynthia Sears Beacon Gallery, showcasing nonsensitive artworks. Through there visitors will enter the main gallery, which will maintain the stringent temperature and lighting requirements of art museums. Coates explained that humidity can only be allowed to vary suddenly by 2 percentage points either way. “What ruins artwork are sudden changes,” he explained. It is in that more protected gallery that the regional, travelling shows will be displayed.
Archive room. This was built first and sat for six months as the rest of the building design and construction proceeded.
The ground floor will include a reception area, the already built and frequently used auditorium, a cafe, and a gift shop. A gallery will house the museum’s permanent collection, which will be rotated through four times a year. And below ground will be the main archive room, which will not be open to the public. It will house the museum’s collection as it grows.
During our sneak peek, Coates showed us the geothermal system, stored beside the archive room, which is comprised of pipes, pumps, cisterns, and heat ducts. One vistor commented that the pipes themselves make a fascinating work of art.
Art wall to be covered in construction.
During the evening, visitors were invited to add their own thoughts and artwork to two museum walls that will then be “buried”—that is, covered up to make them unseen. (Like Kilroy, Inside Bainbridge made an appearance on one of those walls and will, therefore, be preserved, hidden, along with the openly exhibited art.)
Speaking of art, that is the one thing no one was talking about with specificity Friday night. The building is slated for a June 14 opening, and Coates is confident his part will be done before that. “The contractor and the curator,” he said, “are the ones who have to make that deadline.” What this carefully designed building will be exhibiting remains to be seen.
Photos by Julie Hall.