Based in Louisville, Kentucky, the Filson Historical Society collects, curates, and archives the rich narrative of the Ohio River Valley region, offering an ambitious range of educational programs and cultural resources that support this focus. As one component of a comprehensive campus expansion that knits together historic structures and a new public plaza, the Owsley Brown II History Center is a 30,000 square foot facility that provides multi-use event spaces, archival storage, and a digitization lab.
In a deliberate contrast to the Filson’s existing headquarters within the Ferguson Mansion – an historic example of Beaux Arts architecture built with thick load-bearing walls - the project explores ways to reinforce a new presence for the organization as a welcoming and accessible public resource for the community and the region.
Employing a playful brick façade that emphasizes material layering made possible through modern construction methods, the new History Center provides a visually open structure that highlights its primary programmatic functions. Typically hidden areas, such as archival storage, are revealed and reinterpreted as opportunities to display the Filson’s cultural assets. Embedded throughout the building are transparent passageways and impromptu exhibit spaces that encourage exploration and discovery, blurring the boundaries between public & private spaces.
Informed by in-depth research & documentation of the area's circa-1800 development patterns, the new facility is specifically rooted in its immediate context while being clearly of its time - avoiding a 'false sense of history.' Evoking the intricate, handcrafted nature of the Ferguson Mansion’s architectural elements, the project re-invents traditional period details through simple and economical fabrication techniques. Historic features such as ornately decorated ceilings, hand-carved staircase balustrades, and wood-paneled walls are reinterpreted as abstracted motifs that reference the Filson’s focus on the Ohio River Valley region, drawing on conceptual precedents such as water droplets, ripples, and shimmery surfaces.
Through an inclusive design process, The Owsley Brown II History Center is the only large-scale building within historic Old Louisville to receive unanimous approval by the city’s Landmark Commission in over 40 years. Following an eight-year period of design, private fundraising, and construction, the project was completed in March 2017.