N.Y. architects to develop master plan for Walters

September 27, 2007|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

A nationally renowned specialist in museum design, Polshek Partnership Architects of New York, has been selected to develop a master plan to guide growth and development of Baltimore's Walters Art Museum campus over the next decade.

Museum director Gary Vikan said Polshek was selected over 10 candidates that sought the commission, the first comprehensive planning exercise at the Walters in 11 years.

Open since the 1930s with an extensive collection assembled by William and Henry Walters, the city-owned museum began at 600 N. Charles St. and has grown into a campus that includes nine properties on three city blocks stretching along Centre Street.

Its last major expansion, in 2001, provided a new main entrance on Centre Street and new galleries inside its 1974 wing. It draws more than 200,000 visitors a year.

Vikan said the Walters needs a new master plan to help its board and staff identify ways to use its buildings more effectively and how best to use recently acquired properties, including the old Home Mutual Life Insurance building at 100 W. Centre St. and three townhouses in the 600 block of Cathedral St.

The Walters also owns a parking lot at Cathedral and Centre streets that could be developed to provide parking, art storage, and gathering and exhibition spaces.

"Everything is up for grabs," Vikan said, noting that he has been director for 15 years and wants a fresh perspective on planning. " ... I'm looking forward to a different set of eyes."

In hiring Polshek, the Walters chose a firm with extensive experience in planning for cultural organizations. Its past clients include the Brooklyn Museum, Yale University Art Gallery, Barnes Foundation, American Museum of Natural History and the presidential library of Bill Clinton.

The Walters study will cost $270,000 and is expected to take nine months to complete. Funds have been contributed by a private donor.

After spending three hours with the planners yesterday - which marked the start of the study - Vikan said he was pleased to be working with "one of the premier firms" in the country.

"The chemistry was quite wonderful with the board and the staff," he said. "I think we made a very good choice. They got it."

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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