Page D3.2 . 03 September 2003                     
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    Moshe Safdie Peabody Essex Addition


    The site's proximity to his office in Somerville, Massachusetts allowed Safdie to visit it often, walking the town and filling his sketchbooks with impressions and design ideas. He also read the New England literary classics The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible while working on the design.

    Safdie works with a detailed site model and three-dimensional massing blocks to understand the volumetric requirements of the program pieces and how they might work together. He then spends time alone sketching and developing a parti before he involves the project team in his office.

    The downtown Salem site was tight, extending between Essex and Charter streets, next to the museum's original 1825 East India Marine Hall, and the Dodge wing, a brutalist addition from the 1970s. The eastern part of the site was occupied by a row of houses, which meant that the new addition would have to shoe-horn around them, while some existing museum facilities would have to be demolished.

    When it was decided to tear down the existing houses and close a street connecting Essex and Charter, Safdie reconfigured his design, pushing farther east and preserving existing exhibit spaces for renovation. The design also preserves passage between the two streets — a feature that becomes an organizing element of the new building.

    Sum of the Parts

    Safdie's design is ingenious in how it pulls many pieces together into a coherent whole and becomes part of Salem's urban fabric. At the same time, it has a severity that seems just right, "like you would find in the life of a Pilgrim," says Safdie, "emotional minimalism."

    The new building's main entrance on Essex Street is now the very heart of the museum complex. The entrance is a yawning, glassy void, vaguely suggestive of entering a whale, Jonah-like.

    It cants gently toward Armory Square across the street — a new park designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, who designed all of the museum's new landscape spaces. The view into the new wing from the street is immediately alluring — a bright, sun-filled spine, gracefully arced to conceal its terminus.

    The space beckons. Once inside, you begin your journey along the spine, which is crowned with a curved gable roof — half glass and half opaque to provide sun control. The roof shapes are engaging, seemingly free-form, but are actually segments of a toroid (essentially, a donut). Safdie used a similar approach at Exploration Place, whose shapes are slices of bigger forms.

    From blocks away, the spine roof appears to be surfacing sea creature, rolling and cruising through the museum. A second glass roof intersects the spine and reaches west, describing a shark-tooth shape, and creating a very pleasant gathering space likened to a New England village green.

    Safdie's complex geometric shapes work well together, and are just subtle enough to suggest nautical and marine life themes without being too obvious. The spine ends at an entrance on Charter Street, allowing pedestrian traffic to flow between the two streets, though you must pay admission to enter the spine.

    References to History

    There are allusions to Salem's built heritage as well. Along the spine is a series of "house galleries," two-story structures containing the museum's new exhibit space. From the exterior, these galleries appear as five brick house forms, recalling the row of residences that once stood there. Their shapes suggest themes found in Salem's built heritage — Federalist architecture as well as Georgian, Victorian, and industrial buildings.

    During his site visits Safdie took photos of headstones in Salem's famous cemetery, just across Charter Street from the museum. Some of the gallery facades suggest a shift in scale from row houses to tombstones.

    Safdie found the rich red brick and chocolaty sandstone for the banding in England and Scotland, respectively. The materials echo those used in some of Salem's oldest buildings. Safdie speculates that those materials might have arrived as ballast from Great Britain during the city's life as a merchant seaport.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    The new addition to the Peabody Essex Museum by Moshe Safdie.
    Photo: © Timothy Hursley

    ArchWeek Image

    A second glass roof intersects the spine and reaches west.
    Photo: © Timothy Hursley

    ArchWeek Image

    A clever sectional design gives daylight to the art galleries on both upper and lower floors.
    Photo: © Timothy Hursley

    ArchWeek Image

    Section through galleries, looking east, Peabody Essex Museum.
    Image: Moshe Safdie & Associates

    ArchWeek Image

    Ground floor plan, Peabody Essex Museum.
    Image: Moshe Safdie & Associates

    ArchWeek Image

    Upper floor plan, Peabody Essex Museum.
    Image: Moshe Safdie & Associates

    ArchWeek Image

    Roof plan, Peabody Essex Museum.
    Image: Moshe Safdie & Associates

    ArchWeek Image

    Section through galleries, looking west, Peabody Essex Museum.
    Image: Moshe Safdie & Associates


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