Description: In conjunction with our initial program review for the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation asked us to undertake a feasibility study for adding a substantial expansion on the south side of the new Folk Art Museum and its sister, the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum.
Numerous elements in the Kevin Roche design of the original building required adjustment in the face of changing guest and operating needs- most significantly the absence of an obvious entrance. There is inadequate space for galleries, exhibition fabrication, art storage, museum cafe, shop, loading dock and auditorium support. Accordingly, the Foundation's and Museum's leaders sought to address these needs comprehensively as the new folk art museum was designed and built.
A challenging result of the Roche scheme is that visitors have always entered the museum through a re-creation of the first insane asylum in North America- the Public Hospital of 1773- before descending to an underground passage that brings them to the museum itself. The decorative arts museum building appears as a blank garden wall without windows or entries, and once inside the museum, visitors have no visual connection to the outside. In material, the existing museum mimics the Georgian brick institutions of the original village, yet formally it is an abstract backdrop to the Hospital.
The design of the expansion had to rectify these dilemmas while providing a common entry space for both museums. A further complication involved the border of the Williamsburg Historic Area just six feet north of the existing building, which meant that any new construction had to be located "behind" the building, further from the center of gravity of CWF visitors.
The new structure will create a strong entrance and a modulated sequence of curved brick walls directing visitors to an orientation gallery for the museums. Discrete openings to the north allow visitors to appreciate their location within the museums and in relation to the Public Hospital; large windows on the south allow winter light into the cafe and shop. New galleries expand the space available for display by 22% while improving circulation on both floors.