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Building of the Year: Herzog & de Meuron’s New Parrish Art Museum


(Photo: Matthu Placek)

With an opening sandwiched between Hurricane Sandy and Art Basel Miami Beach, the Parrish Art Museum’s breathtaking new home in Water Mill, New York may have escaped your notice. In fact, that’s one of its charms. The Herzog & de Meuron-designed building is a stealth beauty, an extruded artist’s studio that appears as a bleached, barn-like structure set at a jaunty angle to Montauk Highway. We’re declaring the new Parrish our 2012 Building of the Year and urge you to make a New Year’s resolution to pay a visit.

“When we started to work on this project, one of the first things we did was visit artists’ studios here on the East End of Long Island,” Ascan Mergenthaler, the Herzog & de Meuron senior partner who was in charge of the $26.2 million Parrish project, told us last month at the museum’s opening. “We took the artist’s studio—the classic one, a house-shaped typology with north-facing skylights–as a role model for all the galleries that you find in this building.”

Set on property that was once a tree nursery (now a meadow studded with native plants masterminded by the landscape whisperers at Reed Hilderbrand), the 34,400-square-foot building is formed by a pair of rough and cloudy concrete walls that span 600 feet across and are edged, ingeniously, in a ledge that provides abundant outdoor seating and a human scale to all of that rugged horizontality. “The scheme was very simple,” added Mergenthaler. “We only had to add a porch and covered space [which extends off of the café and around the back] so that the outdoor space also becomes an inhabited space. And then you blur the boundaries between outdoor and indoor. We thought that was very important.”

Inside, with triple the exhibition space of its former home, the Parrish’s permanent collection—from deep holdings in William Merritt Chase and Fairfield Porter to contemporary works by the likes of Chuck Close and Elizabeth Peyton–can come out to play alongside exhibitions like the current Malcolm Morley show. The art is illuminated by the famous natural light of the East End. There is not a spotlight in sight.

“To the greatest degree possible, we have tried to reproduce the conditions under which the artists would have seen the work when they were making it,” said Andy Sedgwick of Arup, which handled the lighting design. “Our primary light sources are just daylight, and that’s how most visitors will experience the galleries, but when daylight’s insufficient, it’s fluorescent light that takes over.”

According to Parrish director Terrie Sultan, one of the many benefits of the new building is a boost in employee productivity—no one wants to leave the building to go home. Sultan described the new museum’s three-and-a-half year gestation period as “uplifting and wonderful,” fueled by ingenuity, creativity, teamwork at all levels. “This is an amazing accomplishment of an audacious and aspirational goal for our museum,” said Sultan on opening day. “For us, this is just the start of what the Parrish’s future will be.”

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