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2014 MCHAP

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Bloch Building

Steven Holl Architects

Kansas City, MO,USA



Steven Holl / Steven Holl Architects Chris McVoy / Steven Holl Architects


BNIM Architects (Associate Architect)


The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art


Andy Ryan


The Bloch Building was the centerpiece of a bold strategic plan to create a dynamic experience for visitors and to expand the Nelson-Atkins’s capacity to engage, educate and serve the community. Alongside the 165,000-square-foot addition, the initiative also included renovation and reorganization of the original Neoclassical 1933 building and the reinstallation and expansion of the Museum’s renowned Sculpture Park. Selected through an international juried competition, Steven Holl Architects was awarded the commission for the new building in 1999. The proposed design for the Museum was a daring and unexpected solution to the institution’s needs, balancing innovation with respect for the beloved Nelson-Atkins Building. While the original brief proscribed building on the north side of the existing museum, which would block that north elevation, the winning design merged landscape and architecture to expand the museum along the eastern edge of the campus, and restoring the existing building facades. In addition, the proposal connected the original and new buildings underground and offered a line of galleries and public spaces that were interlaced with the landscape, opening, rising and descending along the east edge of the Sculpture Park lawn. This design became the clear choice for both its architectural achievement and also its physical expression of the Nelson-Atkins’s mission and philosophy.


The 1933 Nelson-Atkins building embodies the traditional role of an art museum within society, an institution dedicated to collecting and preserving significant cultural artifacts. The symmetrical fronts, processional approach, elevated piano nobile, impervious stone perimeter, axial circulation, and hierarchical organization of rooms together monumentalize the visitor's encounter with the works of art. The charge given us to expand the original building offered the chance to fundamentally transform the museum toward a more open relationship with the city and develop a more subjective engagement with the art. During the competition briefing we realized that the expansive sculpture park, open to the public at all hours, could be the catalyst for a new museum architecture -- one of landscape as much as building -- joined to the exemplary original "Temple of Art." Traversing from the existing building across its sculpture park, the five built "lenses" form new spaces and angles of vision. From the movement through the landscape and threaded between the light openings, exhilarating new experiences of the existing Museum are formed. Circulation and exhibition merge as one can look from one level to another, from inside to outside. The "meandering" path in the sculpture garden above has its sinuous compliment in open flow through the continuous level of new galleries. Glass lenses bring different qualities of light to the galleries while the sculpture garden's pathways wind through them.


The Bloch Building, unlike any other major museum, fuses landscape, architecture and art, in a complimentary contrast to the original classical stone building. The new Bloch Building, projecting into the urban landscape and traversing the sculpture park with several entry points, merges exhibition and circulation with multiple routes, allowing varying levels of experiencing the art. The gallery level opens to the sculpture park periodically as it steps down into the landscape; and the garden in turn continues up over the galleries, forming an indoor/outdoor museum porous to the surrounding cityscape. The aim of fusing architecture and landscape opened up possibilities of shaping interior space in relation to landform, rather than to building mass. The landscape is treated as a plane extended over the galleries, a “green” (planted) roof creased and pitched for continuity with the adjacent grades. The 50,000 square foot green roof minimizes the building’s ecological footprint, providing a natural storm water management.

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