Palm Beach, Florida, USA
American Prize for Design laureate Norman Foster has competed his long-awaited masterplan for Palm Beach’s Norton Museum of Art. Together with Boston-based CBT Architects, the renewed and renovated building signals a new chapter in the history of the Museum. New lush gardens designed by Kathryn Gustafson of the Seattle-based firm of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol bring the public experience of art to a new height.
With the redesign, the museum will become a focus for the community with event spaces separate from the Art Museum, strengthening its role as a cultural destination for Florida and its future growth as one of the state’s leading cultural institutions.
The Norton Museum was founded in 1941 by Ralph Hubbard Norton and his wife Elizabeth Calhoun Norton and was laid out by the architect Marion Sims Wyeth as an elegant series of Art Deco inspired single-story pavilions around a central courtyard.
Subsequent expansion has broken the symmetry of the original east-west axial arrangement, and the creation of an additional car park to the south of the museum has led to the relocation of the main entrance to the side of the building.
The new masterplan restores the clarity of Wyeth’s plan by reinstating the main entrance on a new street frontage on South Dixie Highway to the west – visitors will once again be able to see through the entire building via a new, transparent grand hall and refurbished glass and iron courtyard
Foster’s new entrance is signaled by three new double-height pavilions, unified with the re-worked existing wing by a shared palette of white stone. The pavilions house a state-of-the-art auditorium, event space and a ‘grand hall’ – the social hub of the museum. The design also includes a new museum shop and a new restaurant with al-fresco garden seating which, like the new pavilion spaces, can operate independently of the museum to activate the campus throughout the day and at night.
A metal roof canopy floats above the pavilions and projects to shade the entrance plaza. The structure is gently tapered to visually reduce its profile, while providing stability to withstand hurricane winds. The canopy’s gentle lustre is designed to cast diffuse patterns of light in an abstracted reflection of people and flowing water below.
Linear pools create a tranquil setting for the entrance plaza, masking the sound of traffic, which is visually set apart by a hedge. A curved opening in the roof accommodates the branches of a mature ficus tree and a further light well above the lobby illuminates and defines the new entrance.
The overall design reinforces the concept of the museum within a garden.
Taking advantage of the Florida climate, the landscaping of the gardens and central courtyard incorporates native trees and flowers to provide shaded walkways, and the former parking lot is transformed into a new sculpture lawn.
The borders of the museum’s expanded grounds are defined and integrate a row of houses at the perimeter of the site as an artist’s residence and studio, guest house and research facilities.
The new sculpture lawn provides an open-air venue for ‘Art After Dark’, the Norton’s popular programme of film screenings and events, and is bordered by a glass circulation gallery, connecting the interior with the lush green setting.
Norman Foster, Executive Chairman, Foster + Partners, said: “The revitalization of the Norton is rooted in revealing and enhancing the original spirit of the building. Over the years, the museum had lost its sense of identity in the neighborhood.”
“The entrance had been moved to a side road, and there was no presence of a museum. The new design redefines the museum’s relationship with its surroundings by providing a main entrance on the original central axis, while creating new event and visitor spaces that will transform the museum into the social heart of the community; as well as increasing the gallery and exhibition spaces, to engage with a wider audience.”
Michael Wurzel, Partner, Foster + Partners commented: “Just like an artist studies a piece of stone before turning it into a piece of sculpture, the transformation of the Norton Museum of Art was inspired by its context – the light and flora of Florida, as well as the setting of the original gallery.”
“The new museum and the surrounding landscape have been delicately interwoven to form a unified ensemble that will be a new landmark for West Palm Beach.”
Spencer de Grey, Head of Design, Foster + Partners, added: “In the past, there was no outside space for visitors to enjoy, but now the perimeter of the museum’s expanded grounds is defined by a new landscape.”
“The gardens impart a sense of identity to the Norton, connecting it to Florida’s lush subtropical vegetation, creating verdant spaces for art that extends the museum beyond its walls.”
Architects: Foster + Partners
Executive Architects: CBT Architects
Original Architect: Marion Sims Wyeth (1941)
Client: Norton Museum of Art
Landscape Architects: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol