Rubin Museum of Art

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Education Center Design Statement

The Making of the Education Center Slideshow

Photographs by Michael J. Palma

Logo Written by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership

The Rubin Museum of Art has achieved great design distinction through its sophisticated use of materials, color, lighting, graphics and space to create a sensitively conceived serene, yet vibrant environment that is uniquely conducive to the interpretation and appreciation of its subject matter and thematic offerings.  In our approach to the design of the new Education Center we have tried to emulate this successful strategy, while developing a design language that is additionally suited to, and interpretive of the particular programmatic requirements of the Center.

In line with this thinking, the design is focused on two distinct goals. The first is to support and enhance the stellar educational programming that has been a hallmark of the organization, and to assist in giving the staff all the resources needed to allow their work to blossom even more fully. Coupled with that paramount motivation is the strong desire to compliment the distinctive architectural and atmospheric character that the museum has already created, while bringing it forward in this, its newest design initiative.

The procession of experience begins even before visitors enter the new space. Façade treatments and large street-front windows announce the new Education Center's existence. These features simultaneously expose the life going on inside and thereby invite the public to join in.

Upon entry, the full flavor of the Center is revealed. A palette of materials that is modern, yet rich, severe yet vibrant, greets visitors in the reception area. The bamboo floor which unifies the entire facility is composed of alternating tones in the form of light strips amidst a darker field. A unique display wall is composed of undulating horizontal wood ribbons, interrupted by internally lit, pristine display cases, rimmed in the black iron that refers to the window and door system that appears on the exterior façade and throughout the interior. This wall draws visitors deeper into the space, while deftly shielding the coat and stroller check area from direct view.

The focal point of the main level is the dramatic, elliptical open stairway that connects it with the spaces on the level below. The entire stair is enclosed in a spiraling, translucent wrapper, which glows from within and without. This skin is composed of a natural resin and embedded with a brightly-colored transparent photo mural of Tibetan Prayer Flags. This iconic design feature roots the entire facility, from presenting itself through the storefront to pedestrian passers-by, to organizing the movement of visitors inside the center. It also links back architecturally to the main museum space, whose central atrium is activated by its tall, spiraling stairway.

The overall program for the Education Center focuses on providing a varied array of group activity spaces. On the main level, a multi-purpose gathering space is well suited to presentations, demonstrations, workshops, seminars and lectures. It is also outfitted with state-of-the-art projectors and screens to host multimedia events. Lighting and wall surfaces are designed for the display of two-dimensional artwork, much of which will be created by students in the Center's programs.

The entire rear of the main level is occupied by a large Art Studio. Discreetly separated from the front spaces by a wall of glass and built-in cabinetry, the studio is ideal for programs that involve the creation of artwork. Furnishings, display and projection surfaces, sinks, cabinetry and storage are all designed to support teaching and art-making across all mediums. Rounding out the amenities on the main level are brightly-colored bathrooms with full handicap accessibility and baby-changing stations.

Visitors can access the lower level by means of the central elliptical stair or a new passenger elevator. The design of this lower space focuses on ameliorating any sense of being in a basement. The entire floor slab has been lowered to provide greater ceiling height. Lighting has been designed to enhance the sense of open space and brightness. The same flooring material and vivid color palette utilized upstairs is deployed here to provide a continuity of atmosphere. And a light well at the back of the space has been brightened and renovated to create a sense of natural light and more expansive space.

This level offers another large meeting room suitable for a wide range of group activities, including Board, Committee and larger staff meetings. Like the larger spaces above, it is supported by multimedia capabilities, a pantry, storage and bathroom facilities. Finally, this level accommodates Education Staff workspaces, as a means of keeping facilitation and management of programs close at hand.

In total, the design of the Education Center offers the Rubin Museum of Art a highly functional, multivalent new resource that embodies the core values by which the Museum operates, and communicates them through advancing the highly individual and refined design aesthetic for which it has become deservedly renowned.