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Allen Memorial Art Museum
Oberlin College
Oberlin , Ohio, USA


The Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College is one of the finest academic art museums in the United States. The original museum, designed by Cass Gilbert in 1917, grew with an addition by Venturi/Rauch/Scott Brown in 1977 to house the studio art department, a fine arts library and a large gallery for modern and contemporary art. Over the past thirty years, the mechanical, lighting, and life-safety systems all became outmoded and there was inadequate room for collections storage. SAA was invited to provide a sustainable design approach to expansion and renovation.

Working collaboratively with the Museum and College, SAA and McClure Engineering Associates integrated all program elements and systems within the existing buildings. Efficient back of house spaces with distinct zones for expanded collections storage, museum support and mechanical spaces were achieved by excavating below existing galleries. With Jeffrey Nash Lighting Design we established strategies for flexible gallery lighting and beautiful new laylights. A new glass and bronze entry vestibule minimizes fluctuations in temperature and humidity in the King Sculpture Court. Geothermal wells and super efficient HVAC design are expected to reduce AMAM's carbon footprint by 75% and achieve LEED Gold certification. Security, life safety, and restrooms were all upgraded.

The museum's desire to close as briefly as possible was a key goal, so we devised a phasing schedule that allowed the collection to be stored on site in conditioned spaces throughout the construction process, while leaving the museum open continuously except for one academic year.

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