Volume 43, Issue 11 - November 2008


Going Mad about MAD
The redesign of the new home of the Museum of Arts and Design Lets the Light In Through Its Glass Facade
by Charles Cumpston

The new home of the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) on Columbus Circle in New York City was originally built to house the art collection of A&P heir Huntington Hartford. It was marble-clad with small, porthole-style windows. To make the structure suitable for MAD’s needs, it had to be redesigned, a task that fell to Brad Cloepfil, founder and principal of Allied Works Architecture in Portland, Ore. His solution: a façade of fritted glass and glazed terra-cotta tiles that opens the building up and allows light into its exhibit spaces.

In discussing the redesign, MAD director Holly Hotchner says that the architect had been given a directive that they didn’t want “another muscular glass tower,” but the use of materials that reflected the mission of the museum. “The ceramic frit was an extension of the museum’s connection to ceramics,” she says.

Cloepfil says the redesign has been a six-year process and that part of the thinking was that the new design would keep the historical imprint of the building. He explains that the choice had been made to have the building’s “lollipops” remain visible through the transparent glass (architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called the building a “die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops,” referring to its street-level stanchions). “It was a part of the decision for connecting the original building with the redesign,” he says.

“The force of light was central to our design,” Cloepfil continues. “It has light on four sides and it was the most significant single factor in the redesign. We wanted to make the building be alive through the glaze in the ceramics, looking different as you walk around it and different at different times of day and the year. Natural light is so essential to this collection,” he adds, referring to the museum’s collection.

“It was a task of concrete removal and designing to let diffused light into the building,” he explained. “It was a case of editing the building to let the light in.”

German company Seele, which had done work on the new glass-clad Apple stores, was the glazing contractor for the project.

All About MAD
With triple the space of its previous facility, the new 54,000-square-foot building allows MAD to dedicate galleries to its growing permanent collection for the first time in its history, and distinguishes the institution as the only New York museum with open studio programs that allow visitors to watch the creative process within programming spaces.

With a new textured façade of glazed terra-cotta tile and fritted and clear glass, the Chazen Building is a dynamic cultural center that brings together the museum experience and the street life of the surrounding neighborhood in one of Manhattan’s most significant public spaces. Ribbons of glass weave across the building’s exterior, allowing light to filter into galleries and providing dramatic views of Columbus Circle and Central Park. Inside, these ribbons continue across gallery floors and ceilings to create visual connections between the exhibition spaces on different levels.

The building’s new façade reflects both the museum’s craft tradition and its permanent collections. The building’s skin is tiled with approximately 22,000 custom-made terra-cotta plates, finished in a light, iridescent glaze that subtly shifts in tone depending on time of day and perspective. Allied Works Architecture developed the custom glaze in conjunction with Dutch ceramicist Christine Jetten and ceramic manufacturer Royal Tichelaar Makkum. Three separate ribbons of transparent and fritted glass, each one a continuous 30-inch-wide line, weave across the façade. Developed with and donated by Oldcastle Glass based in Santa Monica, Calif., these ribbons of glass filter light into the gallery spaces and allow for spectacular views of the city. The interplay between the glass and the glazed tiles creates an elegant geometric pattern on the façade and gives the building a dynamic sculptural quality in distinctive counterpoint to the high-rises dominating Columbus Circle.

Custom Choices
Oldcastle Glass’s involvement in the project started in 2004, explains Mary Carol Witry, vice president of development for the company. The supplier worked very closely with the project team throughout the entire project, from design to the installation of the last lite of glass, she says. This included participation in scope meetings and involvement in the selection of the glazing contractor.

The more than 30,000 square feet of highly custom glass, including the largest post-temperable glass height available in the United States, was produced at Oldcastle’s facilities in Montreal and New York to extremely tight—and, in some cases, zero—tolerances (e.g., 1/12-inch frit lines perfectly aligned from the #2 to the #5 surface), according to Witry. More than 20 custom colors were selected for the frit lines. “The architectural team actually ended up going to our paint lab and creating the color with our team,” she says. The high-performance glass lites were constructed with thermal warm-edge spacers.

The ribbons of glass that cut across the façade continue inside the building across the floors, ceilings and walls of each level, creating visual connections among the galleries and providing visitors with a unified sense of space. Glass encircles the entire ground floor, inviting a dialogue between the museum and its surrounding neighborhood. The glass then stretches across the ninth floor of the building, giving visitors to the museum’s restaurant, which is scheduled to open in March, a dramatic panorama of Columbus Circle and Central Park.

Allied Works’ design for the museum’s 54,000-square-foot home transforms the 12-story building at 2 Columbus Circle into a dynamic cultural center that furthers MAD’s institutional mission and engages the surrounding urban and natural environment. The design maintains the scale, height and form of the original 1964 structure—one of the few freestanding edifices in Manhattan—while dramatically opening up the once nearly windowless building to animate MAD’s permanent collections, which thrive in natural light.  

Architect's Statement

In 2002, the Museum of Arts and Design purchased the existing property at 2 Columbus Circle from the city of New York. An anchor along the southern edge of Columbus Circle, Huntington Hartford’s Gallery of Modern Art stood abandoned for 40 years as a closed and exclusive entity in an extremely public position. As a silent sentinel, it marked the convergence of Central Park, Broadway, 59th Street, Central Park West and 8th Avenue.

In contrast to the normative city development that surrounds it, the building was a curiosity, an introverted object of ambiguous purpose.

The new architecture for the Museum of Arts and Design is one of preservation and transformation—preservation of the physical body of the building, its original shape and scale, and preservation of the building’s memory, its fleeting image from a distance, its color and character. The transformation of the museum is manifold; it re-establishes the building as an active marker and place of orientation for the city, converts a silent and inert building to one of life and light, and creates a resonant context for the display and interpretation of contemporary art. With a focus on material and making, the museum’s collection of objects in glass, wood and metal come to life in the light.

It is the force of light acting upon the building that transforms both the physical body and spatial experience of the building. Through a single act of editing—a 2-foot-wide cut into the solid concrete walls—the building is opened up and rendered transparent. Continuous ribbons of light rise from the street, radiating from the building core and touching each surface—wall, floor, and ceiling—as they move up through the galleries, and expanding as they pass through the classroom, office and restaurant floors.

Light incises the structural body, transforming the earth-bound building into an interlocking series of cantilevers tenuously held together by the tautness of the new building surface. Light is both invited into the galleries, bringing the art and space to life, and offered back to the city in myriad colors reflected from the iridescent glaze of the ceramic tile.

Gathering in the forces of the site, the building forms fissures of exacting specificity. Intervals of light provide measure and reference for the visitor, while precise views from the interior allow the building to become a compass point for the city. Through color and light, the exterior of the building acts as a reference of change throughout the seasons. The transformation complete, the museum amplifies the experience of both place and art. No longer a passive sentinel, the new design gathers the city within itself and emits the life and energy of the institution to Columbus Circle, Central Park and beyond. 

Glass Specifications

Ground Floor:
3/16-inch Starphire.060 PVB with Partial Frostlite Interlayer¼-inch Starphire½-inch Airspace¼-inch Clear Tempered Sungate 500 (low-E coating on the #5 surface)

Ground Floor:
3/16-inch Starphire.030 PVB with Partial Interlayer.030 PVB with Full Interlayer¼-inch Starphire½-inch Airspace¼-inch Clear Tempered Sungate 500 (low-E coating on the #5 surface)

Floors 2 and Above:
3/16-inch Starphire with Frit #2.060 PVB ¼-inch Starphire with Solarban 60 (coating on the #4 surface)½-inch Airspace¼-inch Starphire Tempered with Frit #5

Floors 2 and Above:
3/16-inch Starphire with Frit #2.060 PVB ¼-inch Starphire with Solarban 60 (coating on the #4 surface)½-inch Airspace¼-inch Starphire Tempered 

Floors 2 and Above (small clerestories):
3/16-inch Starphire with Frit #2.060 PVB ¼-inch Starphire with Solarban 60 (coating on the #4 surface)½-inch Airspace¼-inch Starphire Tempered 

Mechanical Level:
½-inch Starphire with Custom Color Ceramic Frit #2

Interior Doors and Sidelites:
½-inch and 3/8-inch Starphire


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