SITE for sore eyes in Santa Fe - Albuquerque Journal

SITE for sore eyes in Santa Fe

Over the past 20 years, a former Coors warehouse on the edge of Santa Fe’s Railyard has made a name for itself as one of the city’s premier art show spaces. SITE Santa Fe, known for its contemporary art biennials and other major exhibitions, was able to turn the large concrete building into a gallery space – but not without challenges.

Unable to control the building’s temperature made it difficult to bring delicate, big-ticket art pieces to the location. Any public programming, like discussions or screenings, had to be outsourced to locations that had the resources and capacity. In order to expand its reach, and become eligible for grants and donations, it was time for a change.

Those who have recently passed by the currently closed SITE have been able to see its $11.5 million, 36,000-square-foot vision for a re-do of the building begin to take shape. SITE’s leaders hope the new version will be constructed, inside and out, in time for its debut show in early October.

Construction workers install a new exterior at SITE Santa Fe. Construction is slated to be completed by October. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Its signature new exterior, which consists of an LED-lit layer of perforated aluminum outlining the back and front of the building, is inching toward completion.

The metal design meets in a triangular, prow-like shape at the building’s entrance reaching toward the street. That, along with a new glass entryway, were design choices that director Irene Hoffmann said make the building feel more welcoming. Its open shape and bright exterior, she said, will make SITE seem less like a “mystery.”

“We’re able to transform a warehouse building into a piece of architecture that has a signature look, that really reflects what goes on in the building,” Hoffmann said of the redesign.

Aluminum cladding at SITE Santa Fe, recently installed by East End Solutions construction company, was designed with inspiration from geometric patterns and shapes from traditional Southwestern art and clothing. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The metal cladding, made up of smaller geometric shapes, was something the project’s architecture firm, SHoP, designed with inspiration from similar patterns in Southwestern art and clothing, said Ayumi Sugiyama, SHoP’s cultural projects director.

Based in New York, this is SHoP Architects’ first official museum project, though they have made themselves known through other major ongoing projects like LaGuardia Airport and Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, as well as completed work, such as Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

Sugiyama said the firm hopes to take on more museum projects following SITE’s completion. “We’re excited there will be a different presence of SITE and will [hopefully] bring everyone in,” she said.

On the inside are new, “controlled spaces” and updates to former spaces, including heating and air-conditioning capabilities, said SITE external relations director Anne Wrinkle.

The new mezzanine at SITE Santa FE, overseeing the Railyard Park, will be a place available for events for school groups and others. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

A new multi-use auditorium, which leads to a new deck overseeing the Railyard Park, can seat about 250 and will be used for lectures or screenings, as well as for exhibits that require multimedia pieces. Its carpet-like walls are designed for ideal acoustics. The other community spaces include an “Education Lab” classroom, and a courtyard and mezzanine that can be used for school groups or parties.

Ayumi Sugiyama and Victoire Saby of SHoP architects, the New York Firm that designed the renovated SITE Santa Fe, meet with Irene Hofmann, SITE Santa Fe director, on June 19. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The entrance and new lobby space is something SITE wants the community to see as a hangout space, separate from the major exhibition area, Wrinkle said. The design includes a coffee bar, inside and outside seating, and an expanded 2,000-square-foot version of the free SITElab gallery created in 2013 to display smaller exhibits.

“It’s a nice way to have a tiered experience,” Wrinkle said.

Though a building with a mostly metal exterior may worry some who want to maintain Santa Fe’s traditional style, Hoffman said the cladding was a way to “unite” the Railyard’s old warehouse look with updated styling, Its matte color was chosen so as not to harshly reflect the sun. Most of all, she’s grateful for the city-owned Railyard management’s practice to give buildings leeway to experiment with contemporary ideas, allowing for the creation of “world-class” architecture in Santa Fe.

“This building really enacts that [goal],” Hoffmann said.

SITE will reopen with the exhibition “Future Shock” on Oct. 7.

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