Campus News

Trustees Approve Revised Design for Walker Art Building Renovation

Story posted October 29, 2004

The Bowdoin College Board of Trustees has given final approval to a $20 million renovation of the Walker Art Building that will preserve the landmark building's original façade and grand staircase while improving access, gallery and teaching space, climate control, and other systems. Originally designed by McKim, Mead, and White of Boston, the Walker Art Building houses the internationally renowned Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

The preliminary plan approved Saturday by trustees was designed by project architects, Machado & Silvetti Associates of Boston. It includes the construction of a new detached entrance pavilion on the south side of the building (between the Walker Art Building and Gibson Hall) with stairs leading down to a new lower-level entrance court. The design also calls for construction of a rear addition that will provide new gallery space and a view into the interior of the building from the street, while respecting the original geometry of the structure.

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Preliminary design: side entrance pavillion looking north.

"Our architects have responded beautifully to the formidable challenges presented by this complicated and sensitive project," said Bowdoin College President Barry Mills. "Everyone who has seen the revised plans is thrilled with the result. We will now be able to move forward enthusiastically to enhance this wonderful facility in ways that will improve its functions for the College while also increasing its already immense value to the community and to the State of Maine."

The renovation and preservation project will include the installation of a long-overdue climate-control system vital for the protection and preservation of the Bowdoin collection and touring exhibitions, the construction of additional gallery and exhibition space, and full handicapped accessibility to and throughout the building. It will also repair several defects in the facility, including leaks in the building's terraces, poor storage facilities, a substandard loading and receiving area, inefficient office space, and an inadequate, dedicated teaching gallery and classroom.

Once inside the new entrance pavilion, visitors will descend by staircase (or lift) to a renovated lower level of the building. This new entry court will house the museum book and gift shop and other visitor amenities, allowing the building's landmark rotunda to be returned to its original appearance and purpose as a sculpture gallery. On the rear of the building, a modest addition will provide new gallery space and a view into the interior of the building from the street, while respecting the original geometry of the structure.

The revised design has added $2 million to what had originally been an $18 million renovation and restoration project. The timetable for the project has also changed by about three months. The museum is still expected to close in December 2004. Construction will begin next summer, and should be completed approximately 18 months later. Bowdoin expects the fully renovated and restored museum to reopen in May 2007.

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Preliminary design: view from across the quad.

Dedicated in 1894, the Walker Art Building was a gift to the College by Harriet Sarah and Mary Sophia Walker in honor of their uncle, Theophilus Wheeler Walker, a successful Massachusetts merchant, shipper, and entrepreneur, and first cousin of Bowdoin's fourth president, Leonard Woods. The Walker sisters stipulated that the building be used exclusively for art, and its galleries were put to immediate use housing and exhibiting Bowdoin's substantial art collection, originally the gift of college benefactor James Bowdoin III.

Today, the Bowdoin collection of more than 14,000 objects is one of the oldest collegiate art collections in the United States and, with works from the ancient world to the present, is widely considered the most comprehensive in the State of Maine. The collection is valued at over $100 million and is particularly strong in American painting, Ancient Art of the Mediterranean world, and European Old Master drawings and prints. The museum's holdings are used to enhance teaching in a variety of disciplines, including art and art history, theater, languages, sociology, government, environmental studies, women's studies, classics, archaeology, religion, and history. The museum is a widely used resource for art scholars from around the world, and is also a major attraction in southern Maine for tourists, area schoolchildren, and other local groups.

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