The new building for the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah is located on historic Telfair Square, diagonally across from the Telfair Academy, the oldest public art museum in the South, built in 1818–19 by architect William Jay. The site is in the heart of the Savannah Historic District, an area planned by James Oglethorpe in 1733 and defined by a grid of streets punctuated by a series of tree-shaded urban squares.
The building, a contemporary structure that harmonizes with Savannah’s urban fabric, respects the traditional grid of the historic district. The height and mass of the museum relate to the surrounding structures. The glazed façade on York Street engages tree-lined Telfair Square and is formed by two white architectural concrete ‘screens’ framing glass walls, which break up the 37-metre-wide (120-foot) frontage into bays of less than 18 meters (60 feet), as required by the Historic Savannah guidelines.
The foyer of the Jepson Center for the Arts faces the square and is enclosed by a curved stone wall, through which a grand stair rises to the two upper levels. The foyer and grand stair are roofed by a trellised glass-and-steel structure, which casts a rich pattern of shadows on the walls and floors. The second floor contains a 200-seat auditorium, offices, a library and educational galleries. The top floor is devoted to galleries for temporary exhibitions, Southern art, African- American art and photography. A rooftop sculpture terrace is accessed from the upper galleries and is visible from the surrounding streets. The building’s exterior and major interior walls are clad with light-colored Portuguese limestone, and the saddle-shaped roof is leaded copper.