Spencer Museum of Art, architects unveil plans for major renovation

Thursday, May 29, 2014

LAWRENCE — Architects from internationally renowned design firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners will unveil their design Thursday evening for the first phase of major renovation and expansion of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas. The firm, which was founded by celebrated architect I.M. Pei, has designed more than 20 museums, including the Grand Louvre in Paris.

Phase I, scheduled to begin this fall, will encompass an extensive renovation of more than 15,000 square feet of the Spencer’s interior spaces. The proposed design will feature:
• an expansion of the lobby and visitor orientation spaces
• expansion and renovation of the museum’s storage and study spaces for its world-class collection of works on paper
• a new teaching and learning gallery 
• a central staircase and elevator
• floor-to-ceiling windows looking west toward the historic Marvin Grove, introducing natural light into the galleries. 

“Phase I of the Spencer’s expansion project will transform the experience of the Spencer museum. From the new and inviting entrance to a suite of study spaces designed for lively exchanges with art — every detail expresses our core educational mission,” said Saralyn Reece Hardy, museum director.

Features of the Phase I renovation
This renovation project will thoroughly transform the museum’s primary gathering spaces, nearly tripling the size of the lobby and visitor orientation spaces and reintroducing elements of the much-beloved bookshop, which closed in 2011 due to space concerns. 

The Spencer’s Central Court and adjacent galleries will be infused with natural light and allow visitors the opportunity to connect to nature through the introduction of two stories of full floor-to-ceiling windows looking west toward the historic Marvin Grove and Campanile. The designs further enriches the visitor experience by introducing a central staircase and elevator corridor, allowing guests a continuous art- and light-filled journey throughout the museum’s galleries. The current building design requires visitors to leave the gallery spaces to traverse between floors. 

Advancing the museum’s mission to strengthen and support academic teaching and research at KU, Phase I introduces a new versatile “teaching and learning gallery” that will not only allow short-term exhibitions and object rotations developed in collaboration with KU faculty, but also include interactive open storage elements, allowing students and the public to explore the museum’s collections and learn more about behind-the-scenes museum practices. 

With the support of a major gift from an anonymous benefactor, the renovation project will include the creation of the Stephen H. Goddard Study Room for Works on Paper, named for longtime curator and associate director Steve Goddard. The Goddard Study Room will provide increased access for students, researchers, curators and collections staff by introducing a newly expanded and technologically mediated space for first-hand research and teaching using the museum’s celebrated collection of more than 20,000 works on paper. 

Further enhancing storage and access to the collection is a complete revamp of the storage and collection facilities for works on paper, doubling the size of storage, improving access and environmental conditions for this important and fragile collection and providing much-needed space for a number of significant recent collection acquisitions. 


History of the project

In 2010, the museum selected renowned architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, formerly I. M. Pei & Partners, to produce a phased master planning document for the renovation and expansion of the museum. The initial concept for Phase I renovations was introduced in 2013. 

Since its founding in 1955, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners has designed 20 museums, among them the Grand Louvre, Paris; Musée d'art Modern, Luxembourg; the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Charles Shipman Payson Building, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine. Lead designers Yvonne Szeto and Bruce White, who recently designed the Federal Reserve Building in Kansas City, Missouri, were inspired by the opportunity to allow art to be enjoyed in the context of nature, given the proximity of the Spencer to historic Marvin Grove on the KU Campus. 

“The design that Szeto and White have created will distinguish the KU campus with elegant beauty that honors the Spencer's rich history and opens to the many possibilities that lie ahead,” Hardy said. 

Sabatini & Associates, of Lawrence, was selected as associate architect for the project. 


The Spencer Museum of Art, with KU Endowment, has launched a $5 million campaign to support Phase I; to date, nearly $4 million has been raised through the generosity of more than 35 individuals, foundations, and corporations. Fundraising is ongoing. 

The gifts count toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign. Far Above seeks support to educate future leaders, advance medicine, accelerate discovery and drive economic growth to seize the opportunities of the future.

The campaign is managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university. The University of Kansas Hospital is a partner in philanthropy with KU Endowment.


About the Spencer Museum of Art
Widely regarded as one of the top university art museums in the nation, the Spencer draws upon its rich history and world-class collection of 38,500 objects to advance teaching, learning and research at KU. Established in 1928 as the first university art museum west of the Mississippi, the Spencer’s tradition of excellence has recently been affirmed by a significant grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to increase collaborations across all academic areas of campus, as well as awards for exhibitions and scholarship from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation. 

The founding gift that created an art museum at the university came in 1917 when Sallie Casey Thayer of Kansas City offered her collection of nearly 7,500 art objects. Beginning in 1926, the Thayer collection was housed in Spooner Hall, a Neo-Romanesque building located near the Spencer on the Lawrence campus’ central boulevard. By the late 1960s, the museum had outgrown its quarters in Spooner Hall. Helen Foresman Spencer, another Kansas City collector and patron of the arts, made a gift of $4.6 million that funded construction of the current museum. This building opened in 1978 and incorporates the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, the Kress Foundation Department of Art History and the Murphy Library of Art and Architecture, which remain a part of the museum today. The current museumis structure, built in 1978 of Indiana limestone, was designed by Kansas City architect Robert E. Jenks.