Museum in Kansas City
Until recently, the Nelson Atkins Museum looked like a conservative, neoclassical palace for the arts. Eight years ago, when an architectural competition was held to create an extension for modern art, Steven Holl took the opportunity of opening the museum to new visitors and to the cultural life of the city by creating an architectural landscape. Concealed in large part beneath grassed areas, the roughly 16,000 m2 extension is recognizable in the form of five glass cubes rising boldly from the sculpture park. Because of their ability to deflect daylight into the interior, Holl refers to these glass cubes as “lenses”.
Internally, a continuous sequence of spaces follows the gentle slope of the site. The entrance structure marks the beginning of an extensive “promenade architecturale”. Visitors can choose between a downward route via a sequence of long ramps or through the exhibition spaces, which are stepped down slightly from each other. With the aid of T-shaped wall elements that arch out at the top, day-light is drawn in from all sides and deflected into the internal spaces. The glazed facades consist of an outer layer with translucent
U-section glass elements and an inner layer of single glazing. This form of construction has advantages in terms of the building physics and also provides comprehensive protection against UV radiation. Depending on the time of day and position, direct sunlight is diffused, deflected, reflected, diffracted or absorbed by glazing with various textures. U-section glass elements usually have a green tinge because of the iron-oxide added to them. In the Nelson Atkins Museum, this was avoided completely. As a result, the building has a gleaming white glass skin that creates an almost mystical lighting mood, especially in the circulation
areas next to the facade. A converse effect occurs when the “lenses” begin to gleam at night like abstract sculptures. A solid, introverted temple of the muses with fixed routes is now contrasted with a finely articulated new museum flooded with light. The existing building is, in fact, enormously enhanced in status – perhaps because it now resembles a time-honoured exhibition piece itself alongside Steven Holl’s modern architecture.