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Ruins and Concrete: SCAD Museum of Art

The Evans Center for African American Studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design expands the university’s art museum by resurrecting the ruins of the only surviving antebellum railroad complex in the U.S. With its galleries, art studios, classrooms, theater, public gardens, and vibrant streetscape, the former historic landmark is transformed into a new civic landmark and stands as a center of intellectual exchange, artistic discovery, and urban evolution.

Architects: Sottile & Sottile and Lord Aeck Sargent in association with Dawson Architects
Location: 601 Turner Blvd, Savannah, Georgia 31401, USA

The project transformed a series of dilapidated freight warehouses originally built in 1853 by African slaves and incorporated them into a complex that includes galleries, art studios, classrooms, a 250-seat theatre, and public gardens. The 82,0000 sq-ft expansion intentionally links the site’s historical and geographic context with its contemporary purpose. Once part of the underground railroad, the Evans Center now celebrates African American art.

The design process emphasized an artistically manual approach, honoring the humanity and integrity of the site’s heritage. Ruins were integrated within a contemporary concrete structure, preserving and highlighting the historic materials as a fundamental part of the new architecture.

The Evans Center spans an 800-foot block and is punctuated by a single vertical element, a semi-transparent lantern marking the building’s entrance. The lantern serves as an orienting landmark within the district, which is mostly defined by horizontal lines. On the north-facing sidewalk, frameless glass enclosures at each historic arch open up the gallery to pedestrians. On the south face of the museum, a courtyard provides a key connection to the landmark district. The courtyard mirrors Savannah’s public squares and provides the University with a signature campus green.

In addition to thoughtfully integrating salvaged ruins as exterior walls on the north and south elevations, throughout the building salvaged materials are juxtaposed with timeless, durable surfaces and textures, such as brick, concrete and cast glass. Original masonry was recycled for sidewalk pavement and courtyard surfaces, for example, and timber from fallen trusses was reclaimed as interior finishes.

Overall the structure was designed to last centuries, rather than decades, and it was built reusing as much of the original materials as possible. Other sustainable features include the high-thermal performance building envelope, wall systems that reduce loads for cooling and heating, and storm-water management systems that also aid in the efficient maintenance of plants and trees.

The SCAD Museum of Art has received the 2014 AIA Institute Honor Awards in Architecture.

Jury Comments

  • The Evans Center is a striking project, a beacon in this industrial area; a strong concept, beautifully and simply executed.
  • The architects salvaged as many materials as they could, and they fit them into the new building without being false to the finished product. Lovely reinvention of a ruin into an art museum; sensitive reuse, yet clean break with the past.
  • You get a sense of a lack of precision in the original materials, which serve as a nice juxtaposition to the new materials. The quality of the concrete is excellent.
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