Architect: Thomas Phifer and Partners
Owner: Glenstone Foundation
Location: Potomac, Maryland
This major expansion of the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, MD, dramatically increases exhibition space for its collection of post-World War II art from around the world. The centerpiece, a 204,000-square-foot building called the Pavilions, is ringed by a dramatically renovated landscape boasting 6,000 new trees and 55 native species, helps advance the museum’s mission of presenting contemporary art in a captivating setting.
Overall, the project increased the museum’s exhibitions space by 50,000 square feet and more than doubled the area of restored woodlands, meadows, and streams. The landscape design was driven by a strategic master plan that increased the accessible land by more than 130 acres and provided a new public entrance, two free-standing cafes, and a center that highlights the sustainable practices deployed at the museum.
The museum itself is organized as a ring of simple masonry forms surrounding a central water court. Ten rooms of varying sizes focus on singular artists while one room houses a survey of works from the museum’s collection.
Natural light is a fundamental element of the design, and nearly all rooms boast clerestories or laylights that provide balanced light from above. One outdoor room opens onto the sky, allowing the play of light and shadow to shift throughout the day. As the seasons change, so too does the light, revealing subtle qualities in the art and providing a nuanced experience for visitors.
Visitors leave their cars in new parking groves before proceeding to an arrival hall where they can orient themselves for their visit. The short walk to the museum begins with a trip over a timber bridge into an expansive meadow with views of outdoor sculptures in the distance. Leading to the main entrance is a curving pathway winds through honey locusts, oaks, and tulip trees, between which glimpses of the new building can be seen. The water court is planted water lilies, irises, and rushes, creating a dynamic landscape that changes throughout the seasons.
With no rush, no crowds, and no admission fee, the museum offers a unique cultural experience. Presenting art and landscape as two unified features, this project ensures that a much larger selection of the museum’s collection will always remain on view.
"The Glenstone Museum is a virtuoso display of design and detail, and a poetic integration of art, architecture and landscape." - Jury comment