Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



From the opening of its first location in Copley Square through today, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has undertaken a series of renovation and expansion projects.

MFA Master Site Plan

Inside the Fraser Garden Court “Jewel Box” (Phase 1)

On February 14, Malcolm Rogers and Lord Foster, of the esteemed London architectural firm Foster and Partners, unveiled schematic design concepts for the Museum’s Master Site Plan.

The expansion and renovation, the result of several years of planning, will transform the Museum. Visitors will experience a more inviting, more dynamic, and more profound relationship with the great works of art the Museum is privileged to hold and to exhibit. This new Museum, so crucial for the posterity of the art and for the welcome it provides to upcoming generations of young people, will greatly enhance the cultural identity of the City of Boston. At its heart is a respect for and a return to the Museum’s original master plan, created in 1907 by architect Guy Lowell.
The attributes of the first phase of the site plan, planned for implementation over approximately five years, will surprise and delight
visitors and members. A new East Wing will provide much more exhibition space for Art of the Americas, as well as Contemporary galleries. The Fraser Courtyard, a serene and beautiful inner space, will be partially enclosed with a glass, jewel-box-like structure. A new 150- to 200-seat auditorium and renovated Art of Europe galleries are also planned, as well as behind-the-scenes improvements to climate control. Visitor amenities are to be updated and enhanced as well.
A five-year, $425 million campaign will support the first phase of the Museum’s plan, with $385 million designated for building and endowment and $40 million designated for annual operations. The Museum, one of the largest privately funded art institutions in the world, relies on the commitment and generosity of its members and the community to encourage and enable its operation. The Museum’s many noteworthy successes, the foundation on which this expansion rests, are a testament to the tremendous support it receives.
The mission is clear—accessibility to the art. “The Master Site Plan will enhance the Museum’s connections to its surrounding community,” said Rogers. “The plan is a tremendous opportunity to make the MFA an even more dynamic institution dedicated to educating and exciting new and diverse audiences with creative programs and experiences.”

Frank Lloyd Wright - Guggenheim Museum
Guggenheim Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright

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Below please find a history of these projects:

Copley Square Building
Architect: Sturgis and Brigham
Opened: July 1876, Expanded: 1879, 1890; Closed: 1909
66,591 sq. ft.

The original site of the MFA was in Copley Square. Architects John Sturgis and Charles Brigham created a building in the Gothic revival style, composed of red brick with terra cotta decoration. The first phase of Sturgis and Brigham’s design was completed in 1876. Additional sections of the original design were completed in 1879 and 1890 to house the Museum’s rapidly growing collection. 

By 1899, the need for additional expansion of the building was clear, but no land was available at the Copley Square location. MFA Trustees decided to move the Museum to a new site on Huntington Avenue to accommodate future growth. The new Museum was completed in early 1909, and the Copley Square building was closed in May of that year. The site is now occupied by the Copley Plaza Hotel. 

Huntington Avenue Building
Architect: Guy Lowell
First section opened: November 1909
220,878 sq. ft.

In 1907, Museum Trustees hired architect Guy Lowell to create a master plan for the Museum that could be built in sequences as funding was obtained for each phase. The first section of Lowell’s neo-classical design was completed in 1909, and featured a 500-foot façade of cut granite along Huntington Avenue, a grand rotunda, and impressive exhibition galleries. The new building was financed entirely by individual donation, led by the Trustees.

Robert Dawson Evans Wing
Architect: Guy Lowell
Opened: February 1915
89,226 sq. ft.
Renovation: 1986, by Architect I.M. Pei

Only two years after the completion of the first phase of Lowell’s design, Mrs. Robert Dawson Evans offered to fund the entire cost of building the next section of the Museum’s master plan, a wing along the Fenway to house paintings galleries. Through Mrs. Evan's generous gift, which totaled more than $1 million, the new wing enlarged the Museum by 40% providing extensive gallery spaces and an auditorium. The Evans Wing opened in 1915. 

Between 1982 and 1986, the Evans Wing was renovated and a climate control system was installed. These renovations were designed by I.M. Pei.

Rotunda and Colonnade
Artist: John Singer Sargent
Installed: 1921, 1925
Conservation and Restoration: 1999

In 1916, the Trustees offered John Singer Sargent a commission to create three paintings to decorate the rotunda. Sargent instead suggested a more elaborate plan that would incorporate painting, sculpture and architectural ornamentation, to which the Trustees agreed. The new rotunda was unveiled in 1921. Sargent then began creating works of art for the adjacent colonnade, which he completed just before his death in April 1925. The murals and reliefs were installed and unveiled in late 1925. In 1997, MFA conservators undertook a full-scale preservation project to restore the rotunda and colonnade to their original splendor. The project was completed in 1999.

School of the Museum of Fine Arts
Architect: Guy Lowell, 1927 (approx. 45,000 sq. ft.)
Renovation and expansion: 1987, by Graham Gund Architects
Current size: Approx. 100,000 sq. ft.

Between 1876 and 1909, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was housed in the basement of the Copley Square building. When the Museum moved to Huntington Avenue in 1909, the School moved into a separate, temporary structure to the west of the main building. In 1927, a permanent building, designed by Guy Lowell, was completed. The 45,000 square-foot red brick building provided improved classroom, studio and library facilities. 

In 1987, a newly renovated and expanded school building, designed by architect Graham Gund, more than doubled the size of the existing structure and provided an auditorium, enlarged library, expanded studios and classrooms, a spacious new entrance, cafeteria, and increased gallery and exhibition spaces.

Decorative Arts Wing
Architect: Guy Lowell
Opened: November 1928
67,503 sq. ft.

In his 1907 master plan, Guy Lowell envisioned a wing to house the Museum’s extensive collection of European and American decorative arts. Completed in 1928, the Decorative Arts Wing featured more than 50 galleries and period rooms over three floors. Another important feature of the expansion was the creation of a large courtyard and sculpture garden, designed by noted landscape architect Arthur Shurtleff. 

Forsyth Wickes Addition
Architect: Hugh Stubbins Associates
Opened: October 1968
12,852 sq. ft.

On the east side of the building, the Decorative Arts Wing was enlarged to house the newly acquired Forsyth Wickes collection as well as additional gallery and storage areas. The expansion, designed by Hugh Stubbins, opened in October 1968.

George Robert White Wing
Architect: Hugh Stubbins Associates
Opened: June 1970
45,559 sq. ft.

In June 1970, the George Robert White Wing was opened on the west side of the building. The White Wing, designed by Hugh Stubbins, provided new space for a research laboratory, library, dining facilities, education facilities and administrative offices. 

West Wing
Architect: I. M. Pei
Opened: July 1981
80,000 sq. ft.

Although the White Wing provided much needed space for administrative and educational facilities, there was a continued desire to create a large gallery space for special exhibitions, as well as to further improve visitor amenities. Thus in 1977, the Museum turned to renowned architect I.M. Pei to design an expansion that would surround and encompass the White Wing. Opened in 1981, the West Wing reflects Pei’s modernist design aesthetic with an emphasis on natural light. The Wing houses the Gund Gallery for special exhibitions, a large auditorium, and enhanced dining and retail facilities. 

Bookstore and Restaurant Addition/
Norma Jean Calderwood Courtyard
Architect for Addition: Bergmeyer Associates
Opened: 1997/1998
2200 sq. ft.

In 1997, an addition was designed to create a restaurant terrace, an enlarged bookshop and additional administrative offices. All of these spaces have views into the courtyard. Renovation and replanting of the exterior courtyard was also completed, creating a more accessible and beautiful space for dining, concerts and other public programs. 

Fraser Garden Court and Terrace Restaurant
Architect for Restaurant: Jung/Brannen Associates
Opened: 1999
5404 sq. ft.

Opened in 1999, a glass-enclosed restaurant, providing visitors with a view into the Richard and Helen Fraser Garden Court, was opened on the terrace of the courtyard. 

Master Site Plan
Architect: Foster and Partners
Commissioned: May 1999
Schematic Designs Unveiled: February 2002
Completion of Phase I: Approximately 2007

In May 1999, the MFA commissioned the internationally renowned architectural firm, Foster and Partners, to develop a comprehensive Master Site Plan for the Museum. The architectural design concepts for Phase I of this Plan include an East Wing to house spacious and beautiful galleries for the Museum’s collections of American and Contemporary art. Phase I also features a glass “jewel box” set inside the Richard and Helen Fraser Garden Court, creating a year-round space for visitors to gather and plan their day. Other aspects of Phase I include refurbished European art galleries, as well as expanded studios for the research and conservation of Museum treasures. Highlights of the long-range Master Site Plan include creating a glazed “crystal spine” running the full length of the site (east/west), another wing on the west side of the Museum as well as a Study Center.