The highly anticipated wing for the Art of the Americas and Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), will open to the public on Saturday, November 20. In celebration, the Museum is hosting a free Community Day to welcome visitors to see The New MFA. The wing and enclosed courtyard are the focal points of the Museum’s transformational expansion and renovation project, designed by internationally renowned architects Foster + Partners (London).
These additions elegantly incorporate a modernist aesthetic into the Museum’s 1909 Beaux Arts building. The MFA’s project represents the most expansive initiative focused on American art and culture happening in the world today. It allows for more than 5,000 works from the Museum’s Art of the Americas collections to be on view, which more than doubles the number previously displayed. Complementing the wing is a soaring glass courtyard—the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard—one of the most distinctive architectural spaces in Boston, which serves as a dynamic central meeting place within the MFA.
“With the opening of the new wing for the Art of the Americas and the Shapiro Family Courtyard, our vision for The New MFA will be realized. These beautifully designed spaces will enrich the visitor experience and set a dramatic stage for the Museum’s Art of the Americas collections in a unique setting—Boston—where much of this country’s history took shape,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum. “The MFA chose to collaborate with Foster + Partners because of the firm’s unparalleled reputation for space planning and its deep understanding of how to best present the Museum’s great works of art. Foster + Partners has succeeded in not only designing a magnificent addition that is innovative and functional, but also in developing a comprehensive master site plan for the Museum for future generations.”
Foster + Partners, the Pritzker prize-winning international studio for architecture, planning, and design, is led by its founder and chairman, Lord Foster, who supervised the design of the MFA’s expansion and renovation with Spencer de Grey, Senior Partner and Head of Design, and Michael Jones, Partner.
“This has been one of the most fascinating projects—how to combine the constraints of history with a new intervention that will show off the Museum’s extraordinary collection of American Art in a way that will excite, entrance and educate the MFA’s public,” said Spencer de Grey. “Learning from the Museum’s original master plan we have re-addressed the balance of the Museum, creating contemporary spaces for the display of the collection and a new heart for the MFA encapsulated in glass.”
The MFA’s expansion and renovation project will provide additional space for the Museum’s encyclopedic collections, special exhibitions, and educational programs. It increases the building’s total square footage by 28 percent, from 483,447 to 616,937 square feet. The design by Foster + Partners reestablishes the MFA’s important north-south axis envisioned by Guy Lowell, the Museum’s original architect (1870–1927), which brings visitors to the heart of the MFA and improves navigation throughout the building. New landscaping surrounding the Museum’s campus, designed by landscape architects Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. (Seattle, WA), complements the building. The design, which includes more than 1,000 holly bushes and 50 trees, was inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted’s nearby Back Bay Fens, part of his famed Emerald Necklace.
The 121,307-square-foot wing for the Art of the Americas, located to the east of the Museum along Forsyth Way, features a central glass building flanked by two pavilions of glass and granite, one north and one south. Foster + Partners developed a bespoke, state-of-the-art glazing system for the glass with Seele in Germany and worked with Deer Isle granite from Maine—the same stone used in the MFA’s original building. This dialogue between the old and new is a signature element for which the architects are renowned. The wing’s transparent design makes the Museum more welcoming to the surrounding community, and from the top floors of the four-level building, visitors enjoy a sweeping vista of Boston—from Fenway Park to the Back Bay skyline.
The Art of the Americas Wing contains 53 galleries—totaling 51,338 square feet—which include nine period rooms and four Behind the Scenes galleries. Also featured is the 150-seat Barbara and Theodore Alfond Auditorium—measuring 2,128 square feet—for films, concerts, and lectures, located on the ground level. Adjacent to it are two studio arts classrooms and a seminar room. Additionally, the wing incorporates administrative offices and meeting rooms on the top two levels of the pavilions.
Image: Art of the Americas facade. Photo: Chuck Choi