Architect checks up on the Clark


Photo Gallery | Architect Annabelle Selldorf at the Clark Art

WILLIAMSTOWN -- In 1952, Sterling and Francine Clark commissioned architect Daniel Perry to design and build the Clark Art Institute.

By 1955, the Romanesque marble building had opened to visitors, and even with only two galleries, it became a popular destination.

Less than 20 years later, in 1973, The Clark's new addition -- designed by architect Pietro Belluschi with The Architects Collaborative -- The Manton Research Center opened.

On July 4, the original museum building and Manton Research Center will reopen after a renovation designed by architect Annabelle Selldorf.

Friday, Selldorf paid a visit to the nearly finished project for an interview while walking through the new design of the original museum.

As part of the project, there will be a new entrance to the original museum -- through the west side of the building, which is where visitors will transition from the newly built Visitor Center -- with 11,000 square feet of new galleries designed by architect Tadao Ando -- into the newly redesigned original museum.

Selldorf said the transition from Visitor Center to the original museum is something she focused on.

"That is a powerful transition, from new to old," she said. "I hope when they come through they'll say, ‘I knew it would be different but I didn't know it would be this gorgeous, the art this beautiful.' "

The new design reformulates the visitors' circulation patterns, clearer windows for better views of the natural surrounding, subtle color shifts and a new lighting design to enhance the art-viewing experience.

There are several galleries dedicated to decorative arts, and a renewed skylight in the Renoir Room that delivers more natural light for viewing impressionist works.

Each gallery was treated as its own entity to deliver a unique experience.

"Every space has a quality of its own," Selldorf said.

As part of the design process, Selldorf studied the Clarks, the history of the museum and the design of the original building.

Ultimately, she said, she is seeking the structure's character, which helps to understand what sort of design is right.

"We are seeking a design that says this is what the space wants to be," she said. "There is a center of gravity for each space."

Part of the goal of designing a gallery space is to avoid drawing attention away from the art, Selldorf noted.

"We wanted an integrity of architecture that stands on its own, but without taking away from the art," she said. "So while viewing the art, you experience the space at the same time."

The project, seven years in the making, required a specialized collaboration between project architects, designers and Clark Art leadership.

In the end, Selldorf said, "while this is a singular transition, the point is not to showcase the transition, but to think of it as an evolution."

For now, while the final details are completed, the galleries stand empty, waiting to be filled with historical works from around the world and across centuries.

As the project neared completion, Selldorf noted, "I was simply thrilled. I couldn't wait to see it all done. Now I'm just aching to see the art come back."

To reach Scott Stafford:,
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On Twitter: @BE_SStafford


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