The firm has had a long association with the Des Moines Art Center. In 1980, Kirk Blunck worked closely with David W. Scott, a member of the staff of the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington D.C. to prepare the final document which served as a program statement for the Richard Meier wing, up to today when Knowles Blunck Architecture completed an expansion for storage improvements. Throughout the years Knowles Blunck Architecture has completed many project and studies for the Des Moines Art Center. These projects include the restoration of the Saarinen Studio & Office Wing, Blank Galleries renovation, museum shop remodeling, capital improvements study, entrance improvements, accessibility improvements, and art storage and handling expansion.
SAARINEN STUDIO & OFFICE RESTORATION
The Des Moines Art Center received a major donation for the purpose of restoring the lower level of the Saarinen Education Wing to its original studio use. In the original 1946 design, this space was dedicated to art studios. Daylight via the glazing along the entire north side of the space, along with the original black-stained concrete floor and minimal finishes, made the space ideal for studio use.
In this project, the lower level Education Wing was restored to its original studio program. Finish materials were removed to the original exposed structure, and the black concrete floor was uncovered and restored. Asymmetrical dome lights along the north wall match the lights that were originally in this location; additional original dome lights were recovered and reused in the workspace, augmented by new fluorescent lighting. Original sinks were recovered, re-glazed and re-installed.
The addition of extensive ventilation equipment allows an expansion of the printmaking program and brings the program into compliance with building codes and health and safety regulations. Custom casework pieces provide work surfaces and storage for a variety of education courses.
The studio restoration resulted in the relocation of various departments into other spaces within the existing building. In order to accommodate the departments displaced by the studio restoration, the following renovations were accomplished as a part of this project:
• A space for the Art Library and archival storage was created in former office and storage areas. The closed stacks and archival storage space occupy window-less former storage rooms. • The main entrance and public reading room were relocated to a daylight filled former office area, adjacent to the public stair. New mechanical equipment maintains careful control of the stack and archival spaces while providing comfortable conditions in the reading room. Oak wall panels and details echo the millwork in the existing lobby and gallery spaces above. • Former studio space adjacent to the Pei Wing was converted to offices, a conference room and a reception space. Picture molding details continue from the existing Education Wing into the new reception space. Wood and glass partitions and indirect lighting compensate for the lack of daylight, and the new coffee room is located where the original kitchen stood. • The existing Registration Office moved to the former break room in the west Meier addition. The former carpentry workshop was converted into an employee break room, with new plumbing fixtures, casework and lighting. An existing studio was cleaned and repainted for multi-purpose use.
An overall guiding aesthetic principle for all of this work was the restoration of the character of the original Saarinen building, where possible. Where new programmatic functions are accommodated, such as the relocation of the Art Library, design expression complements the original Saarinen design. Millwork details and other materials are consistent with the established material palette.
ENTRANCE & ACCESSIBILITY IMPROVEMENTS
For years the Des Moines Art Center was plagued with complaints about the lack of accessibility. Designed in 1949 the Saarinen wing, which serves as the main entrance, lacked any type of amenity, or thought for the disabled.
Knowles Blunck Architecture completed the final phase of a three-part project to improve the handicap accessibility of the facility. Phase I consisted of re-grading, repaving, and landscaping the parking lot, adding curb ramps, and bringing back the Saarinen details that had been lost over the years. Phase II retrofitted two existing rest rooms to make them fully accessible. Phase III was the addition of an all glass elevator and accessible ramp entrance.
The completely custom glass and stainless steel enclosure of the elevator was only made possible and cost effective through the use of digital modeling and custom fabrication technologies. Using this approach Knowles Blunck Architecture was able to deliver a unique product for the same cost as standard off-the-shelf curtain wall components.
The Des Moines Art Center 2007 study for the existing art storage and shipping and receiving facilities indicated that the balance of gallery space to support space was woefully out of proportion. While the Art Center had aggressively pursued cutting edge architects for each of its additions, both the IM Pei wing in 1968 and the Richard Meier wing in 1985 added very little support space. What storage space remained had been carved up over the years, and left the Art Center without any real functional art storage, or receiving facilities. Jeff Fleming, Director of the Art Center described the existing loading dock situation as “non existent”
Following the completion of the study in 2008, Knowles Blunck Architecture was commissioned to design a storage and receiving facility that would provide the Art Center with modern facilities for art storage and receiving. This new addition will house not only art storage, but also maintenance staff, shipping and receiving, and a small workshop for curatorial display constructions.
While past additions to the Art Center have been bold and controversial, Knowles Blunck Architecture instead chooses to bury the building into the side of an adjacent hill and connect back to the Art Center underground. The roof of the new wing will be completely covered with a green roof lawn, seamlessly blending back into the hillside and providing the Art Center with an outdoor event terrace. The only exposed elements of the new addition are a projecting light well to daylight the storage rooms while serving as a guardrail for the terrace above, and the stone covered bi-folding door where delivery semi’s will be able to completely pull into the building for security and climate control.