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2018 MCHAP

The Owsley Brown II History Center, The Filson Historical Society

de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop

Louisville, TN, USA

March 2017


Roberto C. de Leon, Jr. FAIA M. Ross Primmer AIA


Christopher Coleman/Tetratech (Structural Engineer) Tyler Wilson/Shrout Tate Wilson (M/E/P Engineer) Andrew Knight/MKSK (Landscape Architect)


Craig Buthod / The Filson Historical Society


Roberto C. de Leon, Jr.


In reinforcing a renewed presence for the Filson, the History Center is configured to visually reveal its internal functions to the community as a deliberate architectural contrast to the Ferguson Mansion - capitalizing on the advantages of current construction techniques which allow for non-load bearing walls and large expanses of glazing. Embedded throughout the building are a series of transparent passageways and exhibit spaces that encourage exploration and discovery, while an elevated pedway weaves between the History Center, Carriage House, and Ferguson Mansion. Guided by extensive, contextual research of the Old Louisville preservation district, and inspired by the architectural components of the Ferguson Mansion, the project recalls and re-invents traditional period details. Ornate ceilings, elaborate staircases, carved wood-paneled walls and other elements are reinterpreted with new fabrication techniques that explore proportionality, depth, and material layering. In an abstract reference to the Filson’s historical focus on the Ohio River Valley region, the interior features draw on conceptual precedents such as water droplets, ripples, and refracted surfaces. The project implements numerous sustainable design strategies, primarily focusing on economical and passive approaches that are integrated into both site and building design. Although the client did not request to pursue LEED certification, the project is designed to meet LEED Silver criteria as a minimum threshold. While aiming to achieve a design sensibility that evokes the handcrafted nature of the original historic structures, the perceived complexity of the project is in fact driven by a spirit of rigor, resourcefulness and ease of fabrication.


The Owsley Brown II History Center is a new 30,000 square foot facility for the Filson Historical Society that provides multi-use event spaces and archival storage. It is one component of a comprehensive campus expansion that links together existing historic structures with a new public plaza. Based in Louisville, Kentucky, the Filson Historical Society is an organization that collects, curates, and archives the rich narrative of the Ohio River Valley region, offering an ambitious range of educational programs and cultural resources that support this focus. Headquartered within the historic neighborhood of Old Louisville, the Filson campus is encompassed by the nation’s largest contiguous collection of Victorian mansions, developed during the Great Southern Exposition in the late 1800’s. After 130 years of collection and operation, the Filson outgrew its existing home in the Ferguson Mansion – an historic example of Beaux Arts architecture. Envisioning a “New Filson” campus, the organization sought to create a state-of-the-art research institute that more clearly reflected its role as an inviting public resource engaging a broad community through interactive historic and cultural experiences. This modernization effort expands and updates the Filson’s assets.


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