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Gold Award: Bowdoin College Museum of Art Brunswick, Maine

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Gold Award: Bowdoin College Museum of Art Brunswick, Maine

August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200810 issue of BD+C.
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art Walker Art Building after a $20.8 million renovation, restoration, and addition. The exterior pavilion (at left) created an ADA-accessible entrance into the below-grade additon.
Since its founding in 1794, when what is now the state of Maine was still part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Bowdoin College has played a pivotal role in the educational and cultural life of Maine.

Contributing to that role for more than a century has been the Walker Art Building, an 1894 McKim, Mead & White-designed structure and home to the college’s Museum of Art. 

Several years ago, however, it became clear to museum officials that temperature control-deficiencies were causing the museum’s collection of fine artwork to slowly deteriorate. In 2005, the museum enlisted the team of construction manager Consigli Construction Company of Portland, Maine, and architect Machado & Silvetti Associates of Boston to begin a $20.8 million renovation, restoration, and addition. 

The interior was restored after suffering from plaster deteriorations resulting in cracking and faded trim.
The front stairs removed for repair and restoration. By focusing on the granite plinth walls, limestone steps, and the new spaces located below first, the team managed to put the front of the building back together for commencement less then one year after construction began.
Due to the historical sensitivity of building, careful underpinning was done to prevent unloading of foundation in uneven or excessive manner.
The expansion had to be handled carefully so as not to jeopardize the rubble wall foundations and the rotunda, covered in vintage mosaics that were prone to cracking. To that end, the team began an exhaustive underpinning process that would lower the building four feet and add overhead space, allowing for more open galleries without distorting the original foundation.

To create additional overhead space at the lower level, work crews methodically hand-dug 229 four-foot-wide pits below the stone footings, while existing floor slabs were removed and diamond-tipped wire saws were used to slice through three-foot-wide rubble walls. The rubble wall foundation was underpinned to a depth of 12 inches, significantly increasing ceiling height and providing accommodations necessary to install a modern HVAC system. 

Shoe-horning a high-flow, low-velocity HVAC system into a masonry building from the 19th century was no trivial task. After completing the underpinning process, work on the 12-inch ceilings to accommodate the system began. 

Almost every inch of space above the ceilings was meticulously planned to make room for the thousands of feet of duct work, mechanical piping, electrical and security conduit, and sprinkler piping that snakes its way through the building. On top of this, the aesthetics of the building ruled out putting in any access panels in the walls or ceiling of any gallery space. Instead, valves, controls, and remotely operated dampers had to be installed in the building’s hidden portals. 

Upon completion, the underground expansion provided 63% more space than the original building; the number of galleries was increased from seven to 14; total square footage went up from 19,980 sf to 32,550; and totally gallery space increased to 9,321 sf.  and the HVAC system maintains the proper environment within 5% tolerance.

The project also includes multiple facets of sustainable design including four standing column geothermal wells that provide cooling and re-heating, CFC-free refrigerant systems, and permanent energy and CO2 monitoring equipment. 

Although it grew much larger in scope, the emphasis on enhancing the environment for storage and display of Bowdoin’s collections remained the essence of the project. And the Building Team managed to put the front of the building back together and create a beautiful backdrop for commencement less than one year after construction began. 

“It’s a nice little gem,” says Carrie Walker, S.E., P.E., an associate principal with Halvorson and Partners, Chicago, and a BD+C Renovation Awards judges.  “The underpinning work and restoration were well done. The size of the underpinning was significant, and the geothermal work was notable.” 

Bowdoin estimates that the number of visitors to the museum during its first four months of operation was equal to its average yearly visitor tally prior to the project.
—Lenora Jane Estes, Editorial Intern

Project Summary
Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Brunswick, Maine

Building Team
Submitting firm:
Consigli Construction Company
Architect/engineer: Machado & Silvetti Associates

General Information
Size: 33,000 sf
Construction cost: $20.8 million
Construction time: June 2005 to September 2007
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