Location Williamstown, MA
Size 140 acres
Program Renovated museum and library spaces, new exhibition spaces, new landscape architecture elements
At the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the definition of art transcends manmade objects and includes the natural landscape. The institute, known simply as The Clark, sits on 140 acres of the verdant Northern Berkshires in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Since 1955, it has served as one of the country’s leading art museums and art education centers. Its collection contains European and American works, many of which touch on pastoral themes, spanning from the Renaissance through the early 20th century. It makes sense, then, that today The Clark projects a kind of sustainability that prioritizes landscapes, both the natural and represented.
In 2001, The Clark announced an ambitious master plan that put its landscape at the heart of its mission. The plan reshapes the campus’s reach by integrating its architecture and its landscape. The plan, developed by Cooper, Robertson & Partners, proposed a major overhaul, expansion, and unification of The Clark’s physical structures and its 140-acre site. It would be the first large design project taken on since the Manton Research Center was added to The Clark in 1972, so the new expansion needed a sophisticated design team to make the disparate pieces come together.
After much deliberation, The Clark and its trustees assembled a team with four lead design firms. Pritzker Prize winning architect, Tadao Ando, would design two new buildings, Annabelle Selldorf would update the existing structures, architecture powerhouse Gensler would be the executive design firm on-site, and Reed Hilderbrand would knit the entire project together with an ambitious landscape architecture proposal. The buildings are of incredible importance to The Clark’s goals as an art center, yet it’s the landscape that truly embodies its mission to be stewards of the environment, serving as the cornerstone of the sustainability plan. “The sustainability aspect was hugely interesting to the trustees,” says Madeline Burke-Vigeland, the principal architect at Gensler who has overseen the project since its initial stages. “The Clark has a deep affection for the land, so the trustees wanted to make sure that the landscape was the treasure and that the design would do everything to honor it.”
To realize its master plan, the design team broke it into three main phases: Ando’s design for the new Stone Hill Center, completed in 2008, comprised phase one; a new mechanical plant, completed in 2010, comprised phase two; and the ongoing construction of Ando’s new Visitor, Exhibition, and Conference Center (VECC) and the Selldorf renovation of the 1955 Museum and 1972 Manton buildings comprise phase three. The landscape architecture work, meanwhile, has taken place continuously over the course of the entire project.
Client Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
Architects Tadao Ando Architect and Associates (VECC), Selldorf Architects (Manton Research Center, Existing Museum)
Landscape Architect Reed Hilderbrand
Architect of Record/Sustainability Consultant Gensler
Civil Engineer Vincent P. Guntlow & Associates
Construction Manager Turner Construction Company
Project Advisor Rise Group
Project Manager Zubatkin Owner Representation
Concrete Installation Manifort Brothers
Stretching the work across a 12-year period has enabled The Clark to remain open to the public and has allowed the site to organically adapt to all the implemented changes. It has also allowed the planners to take a macro approach to the design, giving them the time necessary to consider and reconceptualize portions of the project as their understanding of The Clark’s position and goals evolves. “Our point of view has always reached beyond the edges of the property,” says Gary Hilderbrand, the principal landscape architect behind the project. “The Clark is 140 acres, and it’s almost seen as a town common, so the character of its campus had to be familiar to the community. We needed to enhance [it] and make it urbane—it’s a different kind of take on sustainability.”
For the new Stone Hill Center, the first phase of the project, Hilderbrand and his team actually had to clear land in order to foster healthy forest regrowth. “We cleared nine acres of declining woodland that wasn’t regenerating properly,” he says. “This became the site for the building and a new meadow.” Made from quietly elegant concrete, glass, and wood, Ando’s 32,000-square-foot structure looks out over Williamstown to the Green Mountains beyond. Inside, it houses 2,500 square feet of gallery space, a 1,000-square-foot studio art classroom, and 12,000 square feet of facilities for the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. “The view is tremendous,” Hilderbrand says, attributing this quality to Ando’s precise understanding of the site’s elevation.
Hilderbrand and his team also built more than two miles of trails to connect the Stone Hill Center to the original Museum and Manton Center buildings. The trails diverge into three separate paths and different types of landscapes: one cuts through a meadow, and two wind through the woods. “People love them,” Hilderbrand says. “They offer everybody, from the museum public to Williamstown residents walking their dogs, cross country skiing, etc., the chance to experience The Clark’s grounds.”
Follow the paths downhill, and they lead back to the structures and grounds under construction in phases two and three. Phase two, the new mechanical plant, is of utmost importance to The Clark as an art institute. “It’s mainly underground, but it’s the lynchpin that keeps the facilities going,” says Phillip Johns, The Clark’s project manager. “Once it was completed, we were able to remove the old infrastructure and make way for the new systems. We were also able to keep the collections open because the building houses a loading dock and art transport spaces.” With the logistics cared for, phase three, the renovation of the original buildings and Ando’s new VECC, could begin.
Certification LEED Silver (expected)
Materials LED lamps and Lutron dimming system, FSC-certified Oak flooring
Water Reduction of consumption by 1 million gallons per year, pervious parking lots, rooftop collection basins, low-flow plumbing using 100% nonpotable water
Landscape Rain gardens, 640 new trees, woodland growth restoration, meadow restoration, two miles of walking paths
The Ando structure is the architectural gem of the plan’s ambitions. The 44,000-square-foot, one-story concrete building, done in a style that parallels the Stone Hill Center, will house 10,500 square feet of temporary exhibition space, an expansive multipurpose pavilion, public programming spaces, dining facilities, and a connecting glass concourse to the original museum. But it’s the broad three-tiered pool at the VECC’s entrance that’s the truly breathtaking design move, both technologically and aesthetically. Its visual impact instantly directs the visitor toward the grounds’ beauty, and its technological systems enhance sustainability throughout the campus. “The water feature is key,” says Burke-Vigeland. “It ties all the systems together. It operates on a cycle of evaporation and bioretention, which allows the water to go back through the water table and into the landscape. The feature also connects to the campus’s cooling tower and reservoir, and that greywater is used for irrigation and plumbing. It’s 100 percent nonpotable water, and it’s going to let The Clark cut down on its water consumption from 4 million to 3 million gallons of water per year.”
The Clark’s successful completion of its master plan rested on the immense collaboration undertaken by a design team unified from various fields. Johns, Burke-Vigeland, and Hilderbrand all agree on this point. “The collaboration needed with the client and the significant team of consultants and contractors has made this one of our most complex projects yet, and it has gone exceedingly well,” Hilderbrand says. “This approach has made the designs enormously successful—you cannot separate the landscape experience from that of the buildings. Before, The Clark was an institute sitting on an amazing site. Now, it will be a robust working campus, and our collective efforts will bring new dimensions of sustaining health and beauty to the land.”