Speed Art Museum
Located on the historic Frederik Law Olmsted-designed Third Street within the University of Louisville’s Belknap campus, the Speed Art Museum is Kentucky’s oldest and largest art museum.
Af Kirsten Kiser
The primary concept of the Speed’s re-design is “Acupuncture Architecture,” a blend of careful and precise interventions that aim to reinvigorate the entire campus and its users’ individual experiences.
I recall being in Japan and thinking about a unique approach to the museum’s need to expand. Rather than create a stand-alone expansion, we wanted to activate the original building from multiple points in order to heal the whole. We called it “Acupuncture Architecture.”
— Kulapat Yantrasast, founder & creative director of wHY
The expansion and renovation included new north and south buildings, a cinema, an art park, and a public piazza. The new North Building doubles the overall square footage and nearly triples the gallery space of the existing building. On the other side, the new South Pavilion provides additional galleries, an outdoor sculpture garden and a state-of-the-art, 142-seat cinema for a new film program called “Speed Cinema.”
Upon entering the new North Pavilion from the public piazza, visitors encounter a free-flowing ground level, including the entry hall, an auditorium with indoor-outdoor capabilities and a double-height, light-filled lobby which features a suspended 675-pound steel sculpture by lauded artist Spencer Finch. The overall sense is one of openness and transparency; the interior is energized by views to the surrounding landscape, outdoor piazzas, and the university campus.
Making a mark in the building’s form and fritted-glass facade, a wide stair ascends to the second- and third-level galleries, which represent the museum’s first-ever dedicated spaces for displaying modern and contemporary art. The walls are a mix of traditional white and textured concrete carried from the exterior to the interior. The sumptuous, warm material palette was achieved with a significant economy of means and breaks from the monotony of white-walled museums.
The North intervention not only offers a new lobby, galleries and multi-purpose spaces with great visual access to the city, it also connects and improves access to existing underutilized and inaccessible areas of the old buildings.
The connection between the old and the new is made via a suspended bridge leading to the grand galleries in the original building from 1927, but traversing a newly excavated atrium which expands and gives inspiring access to the Speed’s popular education program, once located in a hard-to-access basement area.
The South Pavilion expands the 1954 building to the south to improve the museum’s connectivity and the surrounding University of Louisville campus, as well as to enhance the function and access of the existing galleries in the 1927 and 1954 buildings.
Once inside the 1927 Beaux-Arts building, a sensitive yet contemporary renovation enlivens the experience. Several galleries showcase many of the Speed Art Museum’s most important works from the permanent collection, with a focus on Western art from antiquity to the present day, on colored walls and in carefully detailed casework. The galleries in the 1954 building are refreshed with flexibility and a clean-line aesthetic.
A new grand staircase opens up the intersection between the 1927 and 1954 buildings in order to provide inspiring visual and physical access to the upper and lower levels of all galleries. The new gallery experience enhances all of the old buildings’ spaces and provides a rich and uplifting environment for a seamless flow of art throughout.
wHY was commissioned in 2009 to re-imagine the museum’s original 1927 neoclassical building, designed by Louisville architect Arthur Loomis, as well as to develop and execute a comprehensive strategy for physical, curatorial and programmatic growth and expansion.
The new Speed respects and enhances its historical roots and legacy, while repositioning the museum as an open, accessible cultural hub where people encounter the arts of past and the present, and incubate the arts for the future. The Speed Art Museum opened to the public in March of 2016 with a 30-hour, around-the-clock celebration that was free and open to the public.