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Architect Renzo Piano Designs a "Village for the Arts"
The Grand Gallery located in the Skyway level of the Wieland Pavilion featuring works by Tony Smith and Alfred Jensen. Photo © Timothy Hursley.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA.-The High Museum of Art opened its expanded facilities to the public this weekend, creating a vibrant “village for the arts” at the Woodruff Arts Center in Midtown Atlanta. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, three new buildings surrounding a public piazza more than double the Museum’s size to 312,000 square feet—allowing the High to display more of its growing collection, increase public programs and offer new visitor amenities to address the needs of larger and more diverse audiences.

“Renzo Piano has helped us to create a spectacular new facility that addresses the High’s urban location, expanded collection and our role as the anchor for a multidisciplinary arts campus,” said Michael E. Shapiro, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director of the High Museum of Art. “The Museum, like Atlanta, has seen tremendous growth over the past two decades. This expansion will transform the High into a lively, year-round destination for the arts.”

The High and the Woodruff Arts Center surpassed their original $130-million campaign goal in November 2004—exactly one year before the opening of the expanded Museum. Due to success of fundraising efforts during the campaign, the scope of the project was expanded to include the renovation of the High’s existing building as well as other owner-directed enhancements to the facility and campus. To date, the High and Woodruff Arts Center have raised $163.9 million towards a total goal of $178.4 million. During this time, the High has also raised an additional $10 million in acquisition funds to grow the permanent collection.

The 177,000-square-foot, $109.3 million expansion of the High is accompanied by a $54.1 million upgrade of the Woodruff Arts Center. The total construction budget stands at $163.4 million. Additionally, a $15 million endowment goal has been set, bringing the budget for the entire project to $178.4 million. The expansion strengthens the High’s role as the premier art museum in the Southeast and allows the Museum to better serve audiences in Atlanta and the region.

The High opened its existing critically acclaimed building designed by Richard Meier in 1983, previously housed within the Atlanta Art Association, and has since established itself among the nation’s leading cultural institutions. Attendance rose to a high of 450,000 visitors in 2005, the collection has more than doubled and in the past decade, membership has reached a high of over 41,000 households—among the top 10 memberships of any art museum in the United States.

The High has been a catalyst for the development of the Midtown Atlanta, which has grown into a thriving, economically vital area that now encompasses nearly 17 million square feet of office space and is a destination for nearly half a million citizens each day. The High played a key role in the transformation of Midtown from a transitional neighborhood into one of the city’s most robust areas.

The new High and Woodruff Arts campus creates a cultural hub where visitors can experience the finest art, music and theatre in the city. Piano’s signature piazza design will open the Arts Center to the surrounding neighborhood, with outdoor seating for the new full-service restaurant, Table 1280 Restaurant and Tapas Lounge. Key design features of the new buildings include transparent glass walls on the piazza level and an array of gallery spaces to showcase the core strengths of the Museum’s collection.

“Atlanta is a city in tune with nature, so in designing the High and the Woodruff Arts Center, I wanted to create a light-filled, unified campus that embraces the landscape and engages with its surroundings,” said Renzo Piano. “We set out to create a vision—a vibrant neighborhood with the arts at its core that’s active seven days a week—that will invigorate the people and cultural life of the city.”

Project Funding and the Capital Campaign - Over 5,400 individuals and families in Atlanta and beyond expressed their support for the expanded High and Woodruff Arts Center through contributions to the campaign, launched in mid-1998, with gifts ranging in size from $25 to $12 million. The High Museum has raised $111.2 million of the $163.9 million in funding generated to date—of which over $51 million was contributed by the High Board of Directors. The remaining $53 million was raised by a joint Woodruff Arts Center campaign.

Lead gifts include a construction gift of $12 million from the former Chairman of the High’s Board of Directors, John Wieland and his wife Sue—the largest individual gift in the Museum’s history—and major donations from current Board Chairman Terry Stent and his wife Margaret, and longtime Board Member Anne Cox Chambers. The High recognized the leadership and generosity of these gifts by naming the Museum’s three public buildings in their honor. The central gallery building, the largest of the new buildings, is the Susan and John Wieland Pavilion; the High’s original building has been named the Stent Family Wing; and the special collections building on Arts Center Way is the Anne Cox Chambers Wing.

“The museum’s Richard Meier-designed building was an investment in Atlanta that put the High on the map as a cultural institution of national significance, and it encouraged both dramatic institutional growth and local civic development,” said Terry Stent, Chairman of the Board of Directors. “Now, the High is ready to enter a new era of even more committed service, ushered in by the expansion, the innovative programming and a continuously expanding collection.”

Design of the Expansion - Architects from the Genoa, Italy–based Renzo Piano Building Workshop, in collaboration with Atlanta-based Lord, Aeck & Sargent, Inc., designed the High’s three new buildings: the Susan and John Wieland Pavilion, the Anne Cox Chambers Wing and the Administrative Center. The Wieland Pavilion serves as the new main entrance to the Museum.

Piano’s design of the Wieland Pavilion and the Anne Cox Chambers Wing features a special roof system of 1,000 light scoops that capture northern light and filter it into the skyway galleries. These light-filled galleries house part of the Museum’s modern and contemporary collection in the Wieland Pavilion and special collections in the Anne Cox Chambers Wing. Flexible space on the second floor of the Wieland Pavilion will be used for special exhibitions. On the Pavilion lobby level, visitors have access to the Museum shop, a coffee bar, a visitor concierge and an outdoor terrace—the new home for Coosje Van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg’s “Balzac/Pétanque,” acquired by the High in 2002. Lower level galleries have been dedicated specifically to African art, photography, works on paper and a works on paper study center.

Piano designed the new buildings to complement and link seamlessly to the High’s existing building. All three are clad in panels of aluminum to unite the complex with the Meier-designed building’s signature white enamel façade. Glass-enclosed pedestrian bridges link the Wieland Pavilion to the Stent Family Wing at the lobby and skyway levels, as well as link the Pavilion to the second and third floors of the Anne Cox Chambers Wing.

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