Dezeen Magazine

Palmer Museum

Allied Works layers sandstone for facade of Pennsylvania museum

Brooklyn architecture studio Allied Works has created a building with interlocking boxy forms clad in sandstone and steel for the Palmer Museum of Art in University Park, USA.

The sprawling structure serves as a home to The Pennsylvania State University's (Penn State) art collections, which fill the galleries and storage areas of the 73,000-square-foot (6,781 square metre) structure.

Aerial view of sandstone-clad structure
Allied Works has created a museum for The Pennsylvania State University

It consists of a series of boxy forms of varying heights – called "vessels" by the studio – that spread out adjacent to the wooded landscape of the campus's Arboretum and botanical gardens.

Its rectilinear envelopes are broken in the middle, and the two primary elements are attached by an enclosed overpass, under which passes the primary path to the Arboretum so that the structure functions like a gateway. The smaller of the two volumes contains the administrative offices of the museum.

Snowy building view with sculpture
The museum is clad in regional sandstone and stainless steel

Allied Works clad much of the building with regional sandstone, which aims to draw a connection to many of the stone and brick early 19th-century buildings of the campus.

However, the form of the building is decidedly contemporary, with a tectonic height variation between the different pavilions within the structure.  The arrangement of the structure was chosen to continue the patterns of the site and to create a connection between art and the landscape, according to Allied Works.

Double-height gallery in museum
It has two storeys with double-height spaces spread throughout

Stainless steel screens were installed in front of the facade windows, giving variation to the otherwise consistent stone facade. They also serve a practical function of protecting the art inside from direct sunlight.

Inside, the floor plan is spread over two above-ground levels. Some have two separate floors for gallery space and amenities, while others – like the lobby and select galleries – are double-height.

The sandstone of the exterior continues into the lobby, which has terrazzo flooring. All of the gallery spaces have oak flooring and casework.

Many of the gallery spaces have skylights, taking advantage of the long footprint of the building to maximise natural lighting. To help preserve the artwork the skylights were outfitted with billowing fabric shades.

Green gallery in musuem
Skylights were covered with fabric drapes

The museum has 20 galleries to show American, Asian and European art as well as a section dedicated to contemporary glass. To that end, the museum features a site-specific installation by American glass artist Dave Chihuly that "anchors" the museum's lobby staircase and consists of glass flowers informed by the gardens.

According to the museum team, it will also open with a "collective digital canvas" where visitors are invited to colour in plants that are then added to a digital display with moving and auditory elements.

Palmer museum at night
It borders the university's arboretum

The museum is set to open to the public on 1 June 2024.

Other projects by Allied Works include a veterans memorial in Columbus, Ohio and a massive, bronze-clad music centre in Canada.

The photography is by Jeremy Bittermann.