The Mercer Museum and its collection as it exists today is very much the same as it was nearly a hundred years ago. Looking to expand exhibition and programming capabilities in an effort to attract more visitors, the Bucks County Historical Society commissioned the design and construction of an addition which now provides 13,000 sf of new space. New gallery and classroom areas provide flexible venues for traveling exhibitions, interactive programs for children and educational spaces. The new addition serves as the primary entrance, event venue and orientation space. Its grand entry hall allows immediate views of the original museum and provides new visual and physical connections between the new gallery and the historic Mercer Castle.
Our design approach consists of treating the addition as a series of landscaped walls which create a plinth to showcase the castle, rather than compete with the original building. The choice of poured in place concrete as the primary building material is intended as a means to relate the new addition to the original Mercer Castle without replicating the dominant stylistic approach of the original building.
Built six feet below the ground floor of the original museum, the addition connects the two buildings via a grand stair which doubles as a waiting space for groups of school children. Windows and glass skylights in the grand entry hall contrast with the castle’s heavy appearance, framing views of the historical structure, while preparing the museum goers for the ascent up to the main space of the original castle.
In addition to the new interior spaces, extensive site work was required for new pedestrian and vehicular access, drop off, service and expanded parking facilities. The site’s steep slope is dealt with through a series of retaining walls, steps and gently sloping grade changes, both on the outside and interior of the building. The Museum grounds are coveted as one of the largest open green spaces within the Borough of Doylestown and serve as a gateway to Doylestown’s Cultural District. The new addition re-orients the main building entry and parking lot entry away from the community sledding hill and takes advantage of the gradually sloping grade to create an inviting entry plaza leading to the new main building entry.
The site design incorporates various sustainable features as part of the comprehensive storm water management plan, including a green roof, pervious paving, a rain garden, and native plantings throughout. The green roof becomes on important feature of the building, not only because of the sustainable aspects, but also due to its role as the primary view of the new addition from the existing building and the northern most corner of the site. In addition, the use of existing rooms on the ground floor of the original building helped to reduce the footprint of the new construction, allowing the Museum to capture a dramatic outdoor courtyard surrounded by a panoramic view of the original concrete structure and the new addition.
The new addition not only provides a flexible framework for traveling exhibits and the opportunity to present the museum’s existing collections in a new light, but it’s sensitive integration into the site, allows the contemporary addition to convey the progressive image that will support the Museum’s goals of being relevant and worth a return visit.