Campus News

Bowdoin Selects Architects for Major Renovation of Walker Art Building

Story posted September 12, 2000

Bowdoin College has selected the nationally acclaimed architectural firm of Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates of New York City to design a major renovation of the 106-year old Walker Art Building, the facility that houses the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
The selection of Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates concludes a 15-month process during which Bowdoin interviewed several other leading architectural firms. The selection was announced this month by Bowdoin College President Robert H. Edwards.

“Bowdoin’s museum – its traveling exhibitions, research, expanding collections and audiences – is literally bursting out of what is perhaps the most loved and most distinguished building on campus – McKim, Mead and White’s 1894 Walker Art Building,” said Edwards. “Williams and Tsien are among the most inventive and sensitive architects working today. We are delighted to have their skills, intelligence and touch for the exciting, perilous task of creating new and flexible spaces for a dynamic program”

The Walker Art Building renovation project will include the installation of a climate control system, compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, renovation and expansion of exhibition galleries and visitor circulation, improved and consolidated storage areas, and visitor amenities. Preliminary estimates are for a project cost of approximately $9-12 million, of which the College has already secured commitments from donors of $4.5 million. The project, which requires final approval by the College’s Board of Trustees, is expected to begin in the summer of 2001 and will take up to two years to complete.

Founded in New York in 1986, Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates has worked on a variety of projects, ranging from private residences to cultural, research, and educational institutions. In a recent issue of the International Architecture Review, Will Bruder describes the work of Williams and Tsien as “
an inventor’s synthesis of programmatic creativity and logic; a maker’s sensibility of materials and details; a choreographer’s concern for the poetry of movement and spatial discovery; and an artist’s concern for color, texture and sensual delight. Together they have created a portfolio of projects and realized work that celebrates their roots, talent and far-reaching commitment to the creation of buildings and environments that are of our time, while aspiring to the ineffable qualities of the timeless.”

Known for its ability to bring natural light into enclosed interior and underground spaces, the firm’s recent projects include the renovation and expansion of the Phoenix (Ariz.) Art Museum, a science building and swimming pool at the Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y., and a project at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, Calif. Projects currently under construction include the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, a Student Arts Center at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and a natatorium at the Cranbrook School in Michigan.
“The Walker Art Building sits on the Bowdoin quad like an elegant and controlled jewelbox,” noted the architects. “While restoring the building and bringing its mechanical systems up to date, our architectural approach will embrace the dynamic complexities of the contemporary art world by building an extraordinary addition below ground. It will be luminous and light-filled, capable of holding the art of all periods including the most challenging work being produced today, while providing a stimulating and beautiful environment for the community of visitors. It will be a delicate balance between respect and audacity.”

Tod Williams studied architecture at Princeton University and Cambridge University and earned his master of fine arts and architecture degree at Princeton in 1967. From 1967-1973 he worked in Richard Meier’s office, before setting up his own practice. In 1982 he received an Advanced Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome. In 1992 he was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Billie Tsien earned her undergraduate degree in fine arts at Yale University in 1971 and her master's degree in architecture at UCLA in 1977. From 1971-1975 she was a teacher and practicing painter. She has worked with Tod Williams since 1977 and they have been in partnership since 1986.

In addition to their highly regarded built work they are known and active as teachers, at such institutions as Harvard University, Yale, Columbia University, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the Parsons School of Design, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Pennsylvania.
Williams and Tsien have won numerous awards from the American Institute of Architects, as well as the Arnold Brunner Prize in 1996 and the Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design in 1998. Their architectural projects as well as their philosophy of design have been extensively published.

The Walker Art Building was designed by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White. It was built as a memorial to Theophilus Wheeler Walker of Boston with funds donated by his two nieces, Harriet Sarah and Mary Sophia Walker. Theophilus Wheeler Walker was a donor to the College and a cousin of Bowdoin’s fourth president, Leonard Woods, Jr.

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