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The New Glenstone

Thomas Phifer and Partners

Potomac, WA, United States

October 2018


Thomas Phifer


PWP Landscape Architecture, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Altieri, Arup, Heintges


Mitchell Rales, Co-Founder, Glenstone Foundation


Iwan Baan


Glenstone sought to provide access to a larger portion of its collection and enhance its service to the public. The new Museum’s goal is to offer visitors a experience of works from its collection integrated seamlessly with architecture, and nature.

Guests are intended to have an unhurried, intimate engagement with the artworks and environment. Visitors leave their cars in a parking grove and are greeted at the nearby wood clad Arrival Gallery, where they can orient themselves for their visit. They proceed by walking over a timber bridge and into an expansive meadow. As the path curves, visitors glimpse the Museum through a wooded verge of honey locusts, oaks, and tulip trees, until they emerge with a full view of the Pavilions’ entrance.

Prioritizing natural light over artificial light was fundamental to the design of the Pavilions. Most rooms have large clerestories or laylights to provide balanced natural light from above. One room is open to the sky. The play of light and shadow varies throughout the day. As the seasons change, the light fluctuates, revealing subtle qualities in the artworks and providing a more natural, nuanced experience.

Increasing access to and understanding of the expansive landscape and environment was a core tenet of the project. The landscape design sought to emphasize a systems approach to water management, reforestation, meadow regeneration, and landscape maintenance. The Environmental Center highlights the Museum’s sustainability efforts in composting, organic landscape management, waste reduction, recycling, and water conservation.


Embedded in rolling grass pasture and woodland, Glenstone provides a serene and contemplative environment for visitors to view contemporary art and experience nature. Glenstone’s first museum was completed in 2006 by the late architect Charles Gwathmey. Thomas Phifer and Partners completed a major expansion of its museum and landscape, the centerpiece of which is a new 204,000 SF building.

From the Arrival Gallery, the new Glenstone appears as an ensemble of simple masonry forms embedded in the landscape. The Museum is organized as a ring of gallery rooms surrounding an 18,000 SF water court. Pavilions of varying proportions and daylight house single-artist installations, with one room intended for multiple-artist surveys.

Select pavilions were designed in collaboration with artists including Michael Heizer, Cy Twombly, Robert Gober, Charles Ray, On Kawara, and Brice Marden to meet the specific requirements of their works.

A strategic master plan and site design increase the area of restored woodlands, meadows, and streams and make them more accessible to the public. The expansion also provides a new public entrance and Arrival Gallery, two free-standing cafés, and an Environmental Center that highlights environmentally sustainable practices.

Emily and Mitch Rales, co-Founders, “envision Glenstone not only as a place, but a state of mind created by the energy of architecture, the power of art, and the restorative qualities of nature.”


The building significantly increases Glenstone’s exhibition space, from 9,000 to 59,000 SF, and provides office space, support facilities, and art storage. The gallery’s structural, lighting and daylighting design flexibly accommodates a variety of artwork in all conditions.

The Arrival Gallery achieved LEED Platinum and the Museum and Café achieved LEED Gold. Some sustainable design features include photovoltaic panels, highly efficient air handling units, heat recovery chillers, and enthalpy wheels that collect rejected heat. Materials were sourced to emphasize local harvest, manufacturing, and delivery. Rainwater is collected and stored in two in-ground cisterns for irrigation with a total capacity of one million gallons. Paving was carefully managed and is permeable to prevent runoff to waterways. Highly efficient glazing units, skylights and the curtain wall are thermally robust. Daylighting provides nearly all required lighting for gallery and administrative areas. Electric lighting is operated by daylight and occupancy sensors to function only when needed.

The master plan increased the area of restored land from approximately 100 to nearly 300 acres. More than 7,000 trees of 55 native species have been planted. 33 acres of existing pastureland have been developed into sustainable meadows with a range of indigenous flora. The Museum water court is richly planted with water lilies, irises and rushes, creating a dynamic landscape that changes throughout the seasons. Existing water bodies were ecologically renewed to filter runoff and to create improved habitats for a range of native plants and animals.

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