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Common sky, 2019, by Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann of Studio Other Spaces. © Studio Other Spaces

Albright-Knox Announces Plans for Ground Breaking on Major Expansion, Activities During Construction, Issues Design Update

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Buffalo, NY – Today the Albright-Knox Art Gallery announced its plans for programmatic changes during the construction phase of its AK360 Campus Development and Expansion Project, while sharing an update on the ongoing Design Development phase, which includes a proposed new work of art by Studio Other Spaces, a practice founded in 2014 by acclaimed Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann, that will cover the Indoor Town Square, a new community space. The museum announced plans for Albright-Knox Northland, a new project space at 612 Northland Avenue; an expansion of the Public Art Initiative; as well as a mobile Art Truck that will visit communities throughout Western New York, providing a range of art classes, projects, and activities.

Studio Other Spaces
Common sky, a new artwork by Studio Other Spaces, is inspired by the weather of Buffalo and the lush park surroundings designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. The artwork resembles a natural form more than an architectural addition. Eliasson and Behmann add a light canopy of glass and mirrors over the courtyard of the 1962 Building that reaches down into the space with a funnel-like column. It also creates a connection to the outside by allowing nature to extend into the courtyard through its hollow trunk, where rain can fall and snow can collect in the winter.

From outside the museum, the visual impact to the building’s silhouette is minimal, especially from the east, where it is draped in the park’s foliage. From the west, the structure will be more visible, greeting visitors approaching from Elmwood Avenue. Designed to be added to the building without the creation of new columns, the canopy rests atop the existing walls, intersecting some six feet beyond the edge of the roof, so that the architectural language of the roofline is preserved. The work creates complex, kaleidoscopic reflections that frame unexpected views of visitors and their surroundings. The panels cast patterned shadows on the floor and interior of the courtyard that change throughout the day in accordance with the weather and lighting conditions outside.

Olafur Eliasson says: “Common sky is an expansive sculpture through which visitors experience the constant motion of the surrounding natural environment. The changing light conditions, the passing clouds, the progression of the sun over the course of the day, the flow of the seasons all resonate within this warm, welcoming space. I see museums as places of engagement, where visitors do not escape from the world but rather can examine the world—and themselves—in even more detail, and Common sky amplifies this type of engagement.”

Sebastian Behmann says: “The artwork’s structure emerges asymmetrically from the courtyard to form a striking contrast with the symmetrical Bunshaft building. Common sky is an instrument that uses transparent glass and mirror reflections to modulate visitors’ view into the trees of the park while generating an ever-changing shadow pattern on the ground; it forms a new public space that will host shared experiences of the natural environment within its sheltering embrace.”

“The AK360 Campus Development and Expansion Project is a manifestation of Buffalo’s accelerating momentum and bright future,” said Janne Sirén, Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director of the Albright-Knox. “We are committed to making our new campus inspiring and welcoming to all, with 30,000 square feet of new exhibition space, a wing dedicated to education and community engagement, and state-of-the-art visitor amenities. Shohei Shigematsu’s brilliant design and Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann’s masterpiece above our new Indoor Town Square promise to transform the Buffalo AKG Art Museum into a national landmark and a globally recognized destination.”

OMA Design Update
Continuing the collaboration with the museum and its stakeholders, OMA has reached 50% of Design Development and has refined the design for the freestanding north building. Updates to the north building include optimizing and consolidating gallery spaces to establish a more compact, efficient footprint. OMA will continue to work closely with its collaborators to improve the design and elements of preservation on the campus, carefully considering interiors and materiality.

Shohei Shigematsu says: “Our goal was to enhance the clarity of the galleries and provide a diversity of experiences with art, landscape and the historic context. We are excited to collaborate with Studio Other Spaces whose artwork will create a covered public courtyard and an additional focal point within the museum campus.”

Renderings of the project can be downloaded here: https://www.albrightknox.org/campus-development/about-project.

April 13 Public Forum
On Saturday, April 13, from 10 am to noon, the community is invited to share their thoughts about the new Indoor Town Square concept with museum staff who will be on hand to receive feedback and answer any questions.

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The Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s AK360 Campus Development and Expansion Project is an undertaking of generational importance that stands to position Buffalo as a premier destination for arts and culture. The museum announced that operations at its Elmwood Avenue campus will begin to wind down in late 2019 when construction on this historic project is anticipated to begin and shared its initial plans for the programming and events that will take place during construction.

Albright-Knox Northland
Starting in early 2020, the museum will operate Albright-Knox Northland, a 15,000-square-foot space at 612 Northland Avenue in Buffalo, where it will host a range of exhibitions, performances, and special events. The facility is located in the Northland Corridor currently being developed by the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation, near the Northland Workforce Training Center. Programming at Albright-Knox Northland will be announced in the coming months and is supported by a leadership gift from M&T Bank.

Public Art Initiative
Since its inception in 2014 through an innovative partnership with the County of Erie and the City of Buffalo, the widely popular Public Art Initiative has brought more than thirty murals and projects to the region. During the construction phase of AK360, the scope of the program will increase and an increasing number of works by local, national, and international artists will be placed across the city and county. The museum will announce some of the projects planned for 2019 in late spring.

Art Truck
Beginning in the spring of 2020, the museum will launch Albright-Knox Art Truck, a mobile center that will drive creativity throughout Western New York and provide an array of art activities, classes, and projects for people of all ages. The Art Truck is presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York.

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“Our Strategic Plan serves as a guide as we honor the history and legacy of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and move towards our future as the new Buffalo AKG Art Museum, realizing our vision of a twenty-first century museum that connects art, ideas, and people,” said Albright-Knox Board President Alice Jacobs. “As construction on one of the largest cultural projects in Buffalo’s history is poised to begin, the expansion of the museum’s work throughout Western New York will strengthen and reinforce our connections with the diverse communities we serve while introducing new audiences to the transformative power of art. On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, we could not be more excited to share the initiatives that are making this vision a reality.”

Mayor Byron W. Brown stated, “There’s no doubt that the revolutionary AK360 Campus Development and Expansion Project will have a monumental impact on our community, and I thank museum visitors, in advance, for their patience as we continue to enhance our city’s reputation as a world-class arts and cultural destination. I also applaud Dr. Janne Sirén, the Albright-Knox Board, staff, and volunteers for the innovative ways they plan to continue to present outstanding exhibitions and educational programs during this major construction project, while supporting a new and exciting venue for art installations at 612 Northland. The arts are a cornerstone of Buffalo's cultural, educational, and economic vitality, and AK360 will help establish an even stronger economic foundation for the next century, creating opportunity and access to residents in every section of our city.”

“The news today from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is exciting and underscores this world-class institution’s commitment to Erie County,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “As AK360 transforms the museum’s campus with a signature artwork and bold new public spaces, the museum is reaching even further into the community with the development of Albright-Knox Northland and the deployment of an Art Truck that will bring art and activities to enthusiasts of all ages, countywide. The hugely popular Public Art Initiative will also be expanded and we look forward to placing even more thought-provoking and conversationstimulating artwork around Erie County.”

AK360 Design Development Background 
In June 2018, the museum announced the creation of a new work of signature architecture on the north side of its historic campus. Under the plan developed by the museum with the architecture firm OMA/Shohei Shigematsu, the new building will add 30,000 square feet of space for displaying special exhibitions and the museum’s world-renowned art collection. The new building will incorporate several visitor amenities and is envisioned to have a wraparound promenade that visually connects the interior of the building with the surrounding Frederick Law Olmsted landscape.

In addition to adding to Buffalo’s remarkable architectural legacy, the museum aspires to improve its campus by:

  • building an underground parking structure and transforming the surface parking lot into a vibrant green landscape and gathering place, a green plaza
  • opening a route through the museum from Elmwood Avenue to Olmsted’s Delaware Park, adding a new point of entry and exit on the east façade of the museum’s 1962 Building
  • covering the 1962 Building’s open-air Sculpture Garden to create an Indoor Town Square: a new space for year-round civic engagement, open free of charge to the community during museum and program hours
  • creating a new education wing in the lower level of the 1962 Building
  • constructing a signature scenic bridge that connects the new building with the 1905 Building

Fundraising for AK360 continues to forge ahead, with approximately $131 million raised to date, leaving a target of approximately $29 million left to raise. As was announced in January, the museum met Jeffrey Gundlach’s second, $10 million matching challenge. Through his two matching challenges, Mr. Gundlach has given $52.5 million to AK360. Far beyond dollars, however, he has given our community the tools to achieve a bold vision for the future.

AK360 Timeline

  • June 2016: The museum announced that it had selected OMA/Shohei Shigematsu as its design partner to help realize the aims for AK360 that the Board, staff, and community had articulated. That same month, Jeffrey Gundlach galvanized the AK360 Capital Campaign with an unprecedented matching challenge, amounting to a $42.5 million gift.
  • June 2017: The museum announced the completion of the programming and concept design phase of the project—the first of five that will lead to the grand opening.
  • Summer/fall 2017: The museum worked with OMA to evaluate and refine the initial concept design, the hallmark of which was the proposal to build two new architectural volumes: one that would hover above the Sculpture Garden of the 1962 Building and one that would be constructed underground, along the west side of the 1905 Building. As the team continued to study these possibilities, it became clear that the aboveground volume would be too small to accommodate the program the museum needed, but if enlarged it would be out of proportion with the adjacent historic buildings and incompatible with their preservation needs.
  • November 2017: The museum’s AK360 Project Committee authorized the architectural team to continue studying the initial concept while beginning to explore a second option. This became the proposal that was ultimately adopted and is now being presented for city approvals. It sets aside a space on the north side of the campus large enough for the creation of an architectural statement worthy of the museum and Buffalo. This major new volume will be connected to the 1905 Building by a scenic bridge that meanders through a grove of oaks. At the same time, the design relocates the existing parking lot below ground, enabling the creation of more than half an acre of green space in front of the museum. Key features of the first concept design—east-west access through the 1962 Building, an education wing, and the creation of an Indoor Town Square—have been integrated into this new schematic design.
  • November 2017: Jeffrey Gundlach announced an additional $10 million matching challenge grant to power further the AK360 Capital Campaign.
  • March 5, 2019: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery hosted a public meeting for the AK360 Indoor Town Square Planning Project at McKinley High School. The purpose of the public meeting was to establish the wants and needs of the Buffalo and Western New York communities as they pertain to an open and accessible public space within a museum that welcomes all.

    A twenty-two member Community Advisory Task Force drawn from the Western New York community engaged the diverse voices of our area in envisioning the 6 operational and programmatic fabric of the Indoor Town Square. The Task Force used surveys, focus groups, a public meeting, and benchmarking exercises to gather critical insights that will shape a shared vision for this community space of the future. The assembly of the Task Force and their activities was supported by a planning grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.
     
  • Ongoing: Throughout the process of developing the design, the Albright-Knox and OMA team has been in conversation with New York’s State Historic Preservation Office, a committee of the Buffalo Preservation Board, and staff and board members of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. In addition, OMA has been working with expert preservation consultants to ensure that the preservation of the existing historic buildings was taken into account as the initial concept design evolved into the new schematic design.

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