Seeing the Light

The new Tacoma Art Museum addition gifted by Rebecca Benaroya makes the most of the views inside and out.

It makes perfect sense that transparency, scale, and light are the key elements embedded in the design of the new Benaroya Wing at the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM), given that a large portion of the 353-piece gifted collection is comprised of 150 works of renowned studio art glass.

The Benaroya Collection, donated to TAM in 2016 by Rebecca Benaroya in honor of her late husband, Jack, is regarded as one of the most prestigious private collections of glass art in the nation: It includes noted works by Howard Ben Tré, Dale Chihuly, Michael Lucero, Seth Randal, Ginny Ruffner, Cappy Thompson, and Toots Zynsky. With the addition of the Benaroya gift, TAM’s studio art glass collection becomes one of the top five public collections in the country — totaling nearly 1,000 pieces.

William Morris, Musk Ox Pins

William Morris, Musk Ox Pins, 2000. Blown and sculpted glass with steel stand, 17 × 8 × 4 in. Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Steve and Andrea Wynn, 2016.12.4 A-C. Photo by Duncan Price.

“When we think about designing a space for art, we think a lot about what it takes to support the art and, especially, what it’s like to exhibit glass,” said principal Kirsten R. Murray of Olson Kundig, the award-winning architectural firm responsible for the 6,595-square-foot expansion project.

The design of the 4,800-square-foot gallery space carefully balances an architectural nod to the transparency of glass with its vast window in the Vista Gallery, while supporting the need for the interior gallery spaces to display works that may need limited exposure to light.

“We were especially drawn to the idea of the glass working with the light. Sometimes you want a dark space or, sometimes, you want the work reflected in natural daylight,” the architect said, referring to the flow and flexibility of the five galleries. The Vista Gallery window is 46 feet wide and projects out six feet from the building’s façade. The opening floods the gallery with natural light while offering patrons a view of the Prairie Line Trail and pieces of the Tacoma skyline.

“The intimate scale inside the gallery is balanced against the external civic scale of the city of Tacoma,” said founder and design principal Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig. “The Vista Gallery with its window wall offers a lens into what’s happening inside the gallery, and outside to the urban experience of downtown Tacoma.”

Lino Tagliapietra, Medusa, 2006. Blown glass

Lino Tagliapietra, Medusa, 2006. Blown glass, 17 3/4 × 18 1/4 × 6 3/4 in. Tacoma Art Museum, Promised gift of the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Collection. Photo by Russell Johnson.

The wing, which opens to the public on Jan. 17, will showcase rotating exhibits that will include selected pieces from the Benaroya collection as well as other works on loan and from the TAM collection.

The legacy gift included a generous bequest of almost $14 million to design and build the wing, create an endowment to maintain and support the collection, and establish a dedicated curatorial position.

Benaroya announced the gift two years ago on her 93rd birthday, surprising many with making Tacoma’s museum the recipient of the collection instead of the Seattle Art Museum.

“My son Larry and I were very thoughtful in considering the best placement for the works of art that Jack and I collected,” said Benaroya at the time of the announcement in 2016. “We believe our collection fits beautifully with TAM’s holdings and mission. We also wanted to keep the collection together and in the Northwest. Finding the right home for our works was a very personal matter. This choice reflects and honors Jack’s vision, and now sustains his legacy.”

TAM Rendering

Renderings courtesy Olson Kundig

The Benaroya art collection, which also includes paintings and sculpture by Northwest and international artists, is another step in TAM’s evolving mission to showcase artists identified with the Northwest. The museum’s collection includes the largest retrospective collection of glass art by Dale Chihuly, as well as the notable Haub Family collection, which spans more than 200 years of work of artists from the American West. The Haub Family Galleries are located in the Mayer Sculpture Hall, which the Benaroya Wing mirrors, and were an expansion also designed by Olson Kundig in 2014. Both of these recent wing expansions are a respectful continuation of the primary design elements developed by architect Antoine Predock in 2003.

“The Benaroya Wing is an evolution of the original museum design. It is intended to be an extension of the larger museum building but also add a new level of transparency and viewability and continue the Tacoma Art Museum’s longstanding goal of deepening their engagement with the city,” notes Murray. 

Interior Rendering TAM Benaroya





Architectural Project Team:
Tom Kundig, FAIA, RIBA, design principal; Kirsten R. Murray, FAIA, principal; Kimberly Shoemake-Medlock, project manager; Thomas Brown, LEED AP, project manager; Brian Walters, LEED AP, Laura Bartunek, Rehanna Rojiani, architectural staff; Vikram Sami, AIA, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C, building performance; Michelle Arab, ASLA, landscape architecture.

Key Consultants:
JTM Construction, general contractor; CPL, civil engineer; PCS, structural engineer; WSP, mechanical and electrical engineer; Arup, lighting design; BRC Acoustics & Audiovisual Design, acoustic consultant.


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