Spanning three centuries, the Akron Art Museum combines a late nineteenth-century brick and limestone building with the twenty-first century John S. and James L. Knight Building, a soaring glass and steel structure by the celebrated Viennese architectural firm Coop Himmelb(l)au.
The brick building opened in 1899 as Akron's main post office. Designed under the direction of James Knox Taylor, supervising architect for the Treasury Department, it has walls of deep red brick laid in the Flemish Bond pattern and adorned with limestone trim. Pairs of carved eagle medallions and bronze lanterns decorate its Market Street façade and a mosaic depicting a Pony Express rider is imbedded in its lobby floor. An outstanding example of the Italian Renaissance revival style, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Akron Art Museum moved into the building in 1981 after a major renovation by Cleveland's Dalton, van Dijk, Johnson & Partners. The firm's design won architectural awards for adaptive reuse.
The 2007 design by Coop Himmelb(l)au integrated approximately 21,000 square feet of the 1899 building with a new 63,300 square foot building. Coop Himmelb(l)au founded in 1968 by principals Wolf D. Prix and Helmut Swiczinsky, is renowned for its leadership in contemporary architectural theory and practice and its thought-provoking approach to the reinvention of existing buildings. The Akron Art Museum is the firm's first public project in the United States and, while still under construction, received a 2005 American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum.
The museum's design employs innovative engineering to generate a structure that is highly functional and energy efficient but also visually spectacular, providing a new landmark for the city. Prix asserts, "The dream of the architect is to get rid of gravity." Throughout the building are cantilevered, suspended and floating forms, as evidenced in its three main architectural elements. The "Crystal," a three-story glass and steel lobby, is a focal point connecting the museum's spaces while also serving the city as an indoor piazza. The "Gallery Box," a flexible exhibition space clad in aluminum panels, appears to float due to its 52-foot cantilever. The "Roof Cloud" is a 327-foot long cantilevered steel armature extending over and embracing the old and new buildings and part of the street.
Notwithstanding its radical forms, the new building is respectful of the older structure. The Crystal leans toward it in an embrace while the Roof Cloud stretches above like sheltering arms or wings. To promote an even more dynamic dialogue between old and new, Prix removed part of the 1899 building's south façade, opening the solid brick structure to activity in the new building and its urban setting.
Transparency and permeability are key characteristics of the Knight structure, just as they are important qualities of much early twenty-first century architecture. Coop Himmelb(l)au's design opens the museum to the city and to the public, creating a cultural hub for the community and serving as a symbol for Akron's embrace of the twenty-first century.
Coop Himmelb(l)au was founded in 1968 in Vienna, Austria, by principals Wolf D. Prix and Helmut Swiczinsky. Internationally known as leading architectural theorists and practitioners, the firm is also celebrated for its adaptive re-use of historic buildings.
Current major projects include the Musée des Confluences (a science center in Lyon, France), and the BMW Welt Event and Delivery Center in Munich, Germany.
The firm has received a number of important awards. Among them are the German Architecture Award, 1999, for the UFA Cinema in Dresden; the Großer Österreichischer Staatspreis (Great Austrian State Award), 1999; the Annie Spink Award for Excellence in Architectural Education from the Royal Institute of British Architects, 2002; and the American Architecture Award from the Chicago Anthenaeum for the Akron Art Museum project, 2005.
Coop Himmelb(l)au currently has offices in Vienna, Austria and Los Angeles, California.
Wolf D. Prix
Wolf D. Prix was born in 1942 in Vienna, Austria. He was educated at the Technical University of Vienna, the Architectural Association of London and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles.
Prix has served as a visiting professor and faculty member at many well-known institutions including Harvard University, Columbia University and UCLA. He is a member of the Austrian Art Senat as well as of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. Prix is also a member of the Architectural Association of Austria, Germany and Santa Clara, Cuba as well as of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Born in 1944 in Poznan, Poland, Helmut Swiczinsky was raised in Vienna, Austria and educated at the Technical University in Vienna and the Architectural Association in London, where he later served as a visiting professor.
Welty Building Company Ltd.
In 1945, Henry D. Welty Co. was established to design and build fine homes. When Henry’s son Jerry joined the business in 1969, he took the company in a new direction, commercial construction, and the company became known as Welty Building Corporation. In 1996, Welty Building Company Ltd., a limited liability company, was formed when Jerry Welty and Don Taylor formed a partnership. Today, Taylor serves as President and Jerry Welty serves as Chairman.
While Welty still concentrates mostly on commercial projects, the company has participated in four notable cultural projects: the historical renovation of the Akron Art Museum (1980-1981); the renovation of Blossom Music Center; the construction of Inventure Place – Inventors Hall of Fame; and the expansion of the Akron Zoological Park.
Westlake Reed Leskosky
Westlake Reed Leskosky is the executive architect for the museum's new building. The firm designs for multiple building types and has special expertise in designs for the cultural and performing arts as well as restoration and adaptive reuse. The firm's clients include Blossom Music Center, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Massillon Museum among others.
In 1981, the firm was hired to plan the renovation of the 1899 post office that houses the Akron Art Museum, and in 1999, the architects were called upon again to complete a feasibility study for the expansion. They began working with Coop Himmelb(l)au during the design development phase to prepare construction documents and supervise construction.