The James A. Michener Museum is an independent, nonprofit institution dedicated to the artistic and cultural heritage of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Constructed among the ruins of a 19th-century prison, the museum featured a green “backyard” with an outdoor sculpture garden enclosed by three massive fieldstone walls that once belonged to the prison. Founded in 1989, the museum occupies the site of the former Bucks County Prison, built in 1884 and designed by Addison Hutton. Although much of the prison was torn down in 1986, remnants of the old stone building are incorporated into the museum, including three massive fieldstone prison walls.
As part of a master planning and expansion project begun in 2004, the museum identified the need to develop an event pavilion that would host lectures, seminars, music performances, receptions, and exhibits. The master plan originally envisioned a pavilion awkwardly attached to the stone wall at one corner of the garden. In contrast, we recommended truly engaging the museum’s historic prison walls, and improving the landscape, by inserting a modest, transparent jewel box in the middle of the garden. The stone wall enclosing the garden thus became an “interior” element visible through the pavilion, itself a 21st-century technical marvel of self-supporting, 23-foot insulated glass units that are among the largest and tallest of their kind in North America. The location for the Event Pavilion preserves the existing terrace and allows for passage through the museum’s Sculpture Garden.
The Pavilion creates two terraces to the east and west of the Sculpture Garden, accessed via pivoting doors. In order to create a more dramatic entrance sequence, the entire garden platform was raised 18 inches to eliminate the need for ramps or stairs leading to the new building and is paved with a combination of concrete, river rocks, and recycled limestone. The materials within are serene, forming a backdrop to the events that now energize this space almost daily.
+ The new structure offers the aesthetic appeal of a glass vitrine. It has revitalized the museum and helps fulfill its mission by attracting new audiences and creating an additional revenue stream. + The Pavilion allows multiple museum programs to function simultaneously. + It also makes a powerful architectural statement that adds significantly to the museum’s physical identity.