SANTA FE, N.M. — Designs for the new contemporary annex of the New Mexico Museum of Art were unveiled Thursday, along with a huge donation that will help fund the $10 million project.
The new museum facility, a conversion of the Railyard’s Halpin Building, which was once home to New Mexico’s state archives, will be named Vladem Contemporary, after Ellen and Robert Vladem, who donated $4 million for the undertaking.
The local philanthropists, who moved to Santa Fe from Chicago four years ago, say they are lovers of the arts. Robert Vladem is secretary of the board of Santa Fe Opera, which the couple has also supported.
“Ellen and I really wanted to find something that would be a gift to the entire community in totality,” Robert Vladem said. With the couple’s donation, the museum project has $7.7 million in hand toward the $10 million total estimated cost.
Museum of New Mexico Foundation President and CEO Jamie Clements said the Vladems’ gift is one of the largest in Santa Fe’s history. He said the foundation’s Centennial Campaign has a year to raise the remaining $2.3 million.
The plan is to break ground in early 2019 and have Vladem Contemporary open by 2020.
During Thursday’s unveiling, architects from Albuquerque-based architecture firms DNCA Architects and Studio GP touted the design’s focus on natural light and functionality and making the museum a gateway to the city’s art scene for those coming to Santa Fe by train. The two firms were awarded the design contract in July after a nationwide call.
The design for the 35,000-square-foot museum makes use of the existing 1917 warehouse facility – known for its colorful mural by Gilberto Guzman along Guadalupe – and its basement. Devandra Contractor, leader of the project at DNCA, said its “raw, industrial” quality will be preserved, but the remodel and additions will reflect the needs of a contemporary art museum.
The fate of the mural is up in the air. Contractor said its preservation would be expensive, and that wall may be used as an opportunity for other “community art.”
An addition over the old warehouse will provide a second story. While the Halpin warehouse is aligned with the train tracks, the addition will align with the street grid, oriented diagonally on top of the original building. Parts of the addition’s exterior will be lined with “scrim,” or perforated metal, which helps bring in and control natural light.
“Fundamentally, our design is really about light,” said Graham Hogan, principal at StudioGP.
“So many artists are drawn to New Mexico and inspired by our incredible quality of light we have here in New Mexico. It’s an amazing resource we want to capitalize on.”
Openings in the floor of the second story will allow natural light from the top-floor windows to reach the first floor, and the main floor’s gallery space will have skylights. Hogan said the natural light also helps with the project’s energy-saving sustainability plan.
Vladem Contemporary will have two entrances: one on Montezuma and a south entrance closer to the Santa Fe Depot. A central lobby space on the main floor will connect the two entrances, with a gallery space and an educational area – designed to be used for both creating art and lectures – on either side.
“If you take the Railrunner in, this space becomes a first point of arrival into the city and announces the city as a place for art,” Contractor said. He said the south entrance facing the depot will also have what he called “storefront”-like exhibition spaces for visitors to view artwork outside.
The exterior will also include plaza-like areas, a separate cafe building and a grove terrace that can be used for museum events or everyday visitors.
The second floor will have an additional gallery, a space where visitors can schedule times to look at items from the museum collection that are not on display and artist-in-residence studios. The rooftop terrace, Contractor said, will have views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Plaza, including the original New Mexico Museum of Art.
The basement level will be used for collection storage, exhibition prep and workshop space.
Museum director Mary Kershaw praised the design’s mixture of “real functionality and absolute beauty.” Because the main floor lobby goes through the middle and stairs to the second floor lead directly to the rooftop terrace, it will allow museum staff to host evening events without having to keep all of the galleries open.
“It makes it possible to do a lot more,” she said.