25 years after its first expansion

Nelson-Atkins to Expand

John Hill
3. June 2024
Steven Holl's glassy Bloch Building sits to the east of the museum's neoclassical 1933 original. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

News of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art's expansion comes courtesy of Malcolm Reading Consultants, the London-based consultancy that has run more than 200 design competitions and has been appointed to manage the upcoming competition for the Midwestern institution. 

The museum's announcement of the competition comes exactly 25 years after it held a design competition for its previous expansion. Back in 1999 the museum asked entrants to site the addition to the north of the original neoclassical building from 1933, to keep the sculpture park on the south open and maintain the symmetrical balance of the 26-acre (10.5-hectare) site. Yet, as happens so often competitions, a design breaking the rules won: Steven Holl Architects put their scheme to the east, burying most of the building underground and poking five translucent glass boxes above the landscape to break down the mass of the large addition and bring natural light to the subterranean galleries.

The Bloch expansion is connected to the original building underground, thereby allowing the public to meander between the buildings and visit the museum's sculpture garden. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

While the Bloch Building — as the Holl-designed building was named when it opened in June 2007 — has been widely praised and has helped draw large audiences to the free museum, the symbol of the Nelson-Atkins remains Claus Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's iconic Shuttlecocks that were installed in the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park in 1994: two on the expansive lawn south of the museum, one adjacent to the south steps, and one on the north next to the museum's drop-off.

This all begs the question: With the Bloch Building on the east and the museum hemmed in by Oak Street on the west, will the museum finally get an addition on the north side of its original building? Placing a building to the south is unthinkable, given the museum's impressive, beloved sculpture park; this leaves just the north, where the giant shuttlecock is accompanied by Walter De Maria's One Sun / 34 Moons from 2002 — two artworks that would have to be moved or reimagined in the process.

Claus Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's famous shuttlecocks on the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park to the south of the museum. (Photo: Emily Bruhn, courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

With the competition launching in the fall, it is too early to know what site restrictions and other parameters will be in place for architects looking to add to the Nelson-Atkins' two signature buildings. Cooper Robertson carried out studies for the museum recently, but the firm's website yields little insight on their findings. Nevertheless, architects interested in participating can send their contact details to [email protected] to be notified of the competition’s launch later this year.

Other articles in this category