Page C1.1 . 18 June 2008                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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  • Preserving Cultural Landscapes

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    Bowdoin College Museum of Art

    by James McCown

    Museums today aspire to be open, transparent, and welcoming. However admirable these qualities appear from our 21st-century viewpoint, it is instructive to remember that at the height of the Gilded Age, when the American museum was ascendant, the opposite was true.

    The lavish Beaux-Arts buildings of that era were unapologetically aristocratic and aloof. Art buildings — both public and private — were funded, designed, and run by bluebloods. The middle-class visitors allowed into their walls were presumed to be elevated, spiritually if not socially, by the museum-visiting experience itself.

    No small building in New England so exquisitely epitomizes the Beaux-Arts style as Charles Follen McKim's Walker Art Building at Bowdoin College, whose exterior has remained unchanged since its opening in 1894.

    Several prominent architects have attempted over the past decade to enlarge the Walker for the college's Museum of Art and were met with multiple contradictions.

    Everyone agrees that the building's haughty elegance should be maintained, but the rigid symmetry and grand entrance stairway so essential to the Beaux-Arts style were problematic for handicapped access, and lent a sense that the elite college was turning its back on Brunswick, Maine, its host community.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    Machado and Silvetti Associates designed an addition and renovation for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine.
    Photo: © Facundo de Zuviria Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    To the south of the Beaux-Arts Walker Art Building (1894) by Charles F. McKim, a new entry pavilion of glass, bronze, and blackened steel leads visitors to subterranean galleries.
    Photo: © Facundo de Zuviria Extra Large Image


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