Winged Victory

I work in the Discovery District, so I’ve been witness to the various phases of the Columbus Museum of Art expansion since day one. All the noise, the construction smells, the parking shuffle, the landscaping, and the slow emergence of the green-hued addition, and all the gardens and public spaces that now hug the building. I love the copper wrapping of the new wing—the green patina reminiscent of gothic cathedral spires while the shape is pure Jetsons—similar to the way the new modern wing plays with the new/old tension in its relationship with the original CMA neoclassical edifice.

The atrium, which connects the contemporary with the classic, is a cascade of light, with a cathedral-tall ceiling and various seating spots to soak in the energy with which the new Walter Wing has invigorated the 84-year-old institution.

In addition to providing visual arrest, the Walter Wing also adds 22,000 square feet of exhibition space, currently occupied by the “Keeping Pace: Eva Glimcher and Pace/Columbus” and  “Imperfections By Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954–1966,” awhich will show through mid-January. Masterpieces from the CMA’s extensive collection are also back on view.

Architect Michael Bongiorno of Columbus-based DesignGroup felt that kinetic energy standing in the space he designed on the night of its official unveiling.

“It was exhilarating and it all felt so alive—electric even. I stood in the lobby just to watch the look on people’s faces,” he said. “You can think of every nook and cranny of a building and the opportunities you are creating for different kinds of experiences, but to actually see people experiences it.

“There were really four essential ones: mission, natural light, materials, and how we thought of the experience as a cinematic one. We have a great passion for working with clients who are driven by a mission and for whom we are able to manifest that mission in the form of buildings. In particular, we were inspired to be part of the process where CMA was reimaging their role in contemporary society and were willing to think differently about how a building can reflect their personality; that the ‘outside’ CMA was a reflection of the ‘inside’ CMA.

“The cinematic experience of the Walter Wing addition was imagined in the same way a cinematographer imagines a sequence of experiences in the creation of the story of a film as a series of vignettes and framed views. One example of this is the “cinematic façades,” a term we coined for floor-to-ceiling glass walls filling the entirety of the north and south face of the galleries that announce CMA’s presence to the surrounding neighborhood. Inspired again by the museum’s mission, these facades are a new way for CMA to connect to the street and a new way for the street to connect to CMA; on the one hand, they allow a view of activity within to the passerby; on the other hand, the CMA visitor, once inwardly focused, is now able to look out to the city, blurring the line between CMA and its city.”

“We were inspired to think about the poetics of natural light entering the Walter Wing and how the changing conditions of light over the course of the day and the course of the year would create an emotional and psychological response, not just provide illumination. Every time you visit the Walter Wing, the natural light will be different and, therefore, your experience will never be the same.”

“On opening day something like 9,000 people came through the entire museum and it didn’t feel overwhelming; it just seemed happily busy and dynamic. In the past, prior to the addition of the Walter Wing, a good Sunday felt like you were packed in like sardines. Now there is room for a great number of people but all with enough elbow room for it to be individually enjoyable while being a social experience at the same time. I don’t think I could have hoped for better. I went outside to see what it looked like from the street as well, because you can see into the museum now, and the sense of life and activity and art on display to the street is incredible, so full of life and inspiration. People just want to “be” there and hang out. So many people have come up to me recently and told me that this is something they really love about the new Walter Wing; that it doesn’t feel stuffy or stand-offish, but rather very inviting, social, and uplifting; a living room away from home. Architecture is a social act so it is pretty incredible to hear people respond that way. I hope it is enjoyable in that way for generations to come.”