Phoenix Makes Museum Expansion a Work of Art

Article excerpt

"It's got to be one of the best-planned buildings ever. We spent a whole year with the architects, planning space and crowd movement. We made it so a 10-foot cube could be taken anywhere in the building. We've gotten input from everyone who works here, including the security guards. We are paying close attention to user need."

_ Jim Ballinger

By Richard Nilsen

The Arizona Republic

PHOENIX _ As you drive past the dusty, cluttered construction site near downtown, you would be hard pressed to believe that the city's museum is showing off its new wing.

Although the Phoenix Art Museum has remained open during construction, it has been hidden for the past year behind a pile of rubble.

Phase 1 of the project is complete, and Saturday the museum will open its first show in the 9,100-square-foot gallery in the new building.

But the rubble still abounds. Some floors remain to be finished, some windows need glass and a mass of debris must be cleaned from the new entrance.

Is there any way they can spruce the place up and welcome the first museumgoers to the new Latin American Women Artists exhibition?

"The easiest way to say it is that a year and a half ago, we contracted to open our Latin American Women's art show on July 8," said Director Jim Ballinger, "and it's opening on July 8."

The museum's $25 million construction project will add a wing to the old building and eventually double the exhibition space.

The construction is the result of a 1988 bond issue that funded several new cultural facilities in Phoenix.

The museum's old space is 73,000 square feet. When the expansion is complete, it will be 160,000 square feet. Among the new features is the special-exhibitions hall that opens this week. There also will be a new lobby, a 300-seat theater, an audiovisual orientation room, a 4,500-square-foot sculpture area, food service and a "great hall" for community events.

The architects are the New York husband-and-wife team of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

"The museum wanted to make the new building a star of Phoenix," Tsien said.

The construction will continue for the next year or so, while the older portions of the building are refurbished and redesigned, but at no point will the museum be closed to the public.

"That was one of the requirements for the design," Tsien said. "Jim wanted to keep the museum operating while we worked."

The new changing-exhibit space opened Thursday night with a reception for major donors to the museum's endowment and building campaign. There will be a members' opening today. The building opens to the public Saturday.

"Nobody seems to be concerned about being fully ready to go," Ballinger said. "Most of the mess is just materials on the floors that the last big sweep will clean out."

The north wing of the new building, with its huge exhibit space and high ceiling, new lobby and a temporary sculpture wing in the new south wing will be ready for the public.

For Ballinger and the museum staff, the completion of the first phase of construction is just one step in a long, involved process.

As the new wing opens, the old building is closing. The staff has had to relocate in temporary offices at a nearby mall.

All the art in storage will be moved out of the basement of the old building into temporary quarters in the south wing of the new building. …