Walker Art Center Expansion
This expansion for Minneapolis' Walker Art Center, one of the most important venues for contemporary art in the country, unifies a previously disjointed site. The expansion of the Walker campus, which features two iconic buildings designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes in 1971 and Herzog & de Meuron in 2005, also provides a bold new identity for the institution's future.
This project corrects some of the missteps of an earlier expansion, which, while successful in many ways, shifted the center's main entry away from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a city-owned park that highlights works from the Walker's sculpture collection. After the entrance was moved, the center was left without a clear identity and no public space to define its distinct architecture and landscape. Further compounding the issue was a lack of circulation from the garden and poor wayfinding.
Until 2005, when it was razed, a Ralph Rapson-designed theater was connected to the Walker via a two-story atrium. It was replaced by a large stucco wall, which increased feelings of disorientation and was a physical barrier to entry. Visitors traveling to the Walker by car were greeted by a nondescript hallway wrapped around a mechanical room as they made their way from the underground parking ramp. Realizing its opportunity to reshape one of Minneapolis' most important gateways, the design team fully embraced the idea of creating a new welcoming beacon for the city.
Accessible pathways ring it and lead visitors through an upper garden replete with groves of trees and artworks. The green roof provides sweeping views of the cherished sculpture garden and the city's skyline.
Drawing inspiration in its materiality and massing from the adjacent Barnes masterpiece, this expansion consolidates all of the center's visitor amenities under a 5,500-square-foot entry pavilion. The pavilion boasts a 100-seat restaurant and outdoor dining terrace topped with a green roof. The project also includes a 15,200-square-foot renovation of the center's main lobby, parking entry, and mechanical rooms and a careful restructuring of the brick envelope of the Barnes building to bring the landmark in line with today's energy codes and performance standards. The team also reimagined the center's six-acre upper garden and further integrated it into the campus.
The pavilion is nestled into the hillside, deferring to its context while forming its architectural voice. Accessible pathways ring it and lead visitors through an upper garden replete with groves of trees and artworks. The green roof provides sweeping views of the cherished sculpture garden and the city's skyline.
Inside, visitors enter through a bronze vestibule that features a polished yellow aluminum liner. The formerly circuitous path from the parking ramp has been corrected and provides direct visual connections to the sculpture garden. In the pavilion's restaurant space, which is more accessible to combat vendor turnover, floor-to-ceiling windows offer diners views of Claes Oldenburg's whimsical sculptural fountain Spoonbridge and Cherry.
Since they opened, the center's new spaces have encouraged a wide range of engagements, both inside and out. More than 900,000 people flock to the campus each year, with about 250,000 venturing inside to experience exhibitions and programs. One month after its opening, the upper garden hosted 11,000 music lovers for its annual festival.