After Lengthy Wait, Harvard Art Museums Will Open Renovated Building in November

After undergoing several years of construction, the Fogg Museum is expected to reopen in the fall of 2014. The reconstruction of the museum is part of a larger initiative to merge Harvard’s art collection into one building.

UPDATED: March 11, 2014, at 4:15 p.m.

Following years of renovation, the Harvard Art Museums announced Tuesday afternoon that its new facility, which will house collections from all three of the University’s art museums—the Busch-Reisinger, the Fogg, and the Arthur M. Sackler—will open on Nov. 16 of this year. The reconstructed building, which expands total gallery space to 43,000 square feet, will include six levels of public space, a new glass roof, and new resources and spaces for teaching, exhibition, and research.

“We knew that we had an opportunity to redefine the Harvard Art Museums as an accessible and connected 21st-century facility for teaching and learning, so we engaged [architect] Renzo Piano to design a building to implement that vision,” Director of the Harvard University Art Museums Thomas W. Lentz said in the press release. “We asked him to design it from the inside out—to create a new kind of laboratory for the fine arts that would support our mission of teaching across disciplines, conducting research, and training museum professionals.”

The creation of the new facility, which is located at 32 Quincy St., marks the first time that the collections will be displayed under one roof, though only a small percentage of the entire collections, which consists in total of about 250,000 objects, will be on display at any one time.

Extensive reconstruction of the Fogg Art Museum—the most expansive of Harvard’s art collections—began in early 2008, launching a renovation process that was first called for in a 1956 report. Several unexpected obstacles, including the complexity of preserving portions of the 1927 building and the presence of asbestos, stalled the opening of the central facility past its original opening goal of late 2013. During the reconstruction period, the Sackler has remained open and featured highlights from the University’s art collection.

The art museums have raised $237 million to date, according to the press release. The initial goal for the project was $250 million.

While the revitalization and reconstruction process retained the building’s historic street-facing facades and extended its interior Calderwood Courtyard, most of the inside spaces were completely overhauled in a redesign that will increase gallery space by more than 40 percent and update the facility to align with the University’s sustainability initiatives. The construction also includes the creation of an additional space along Prescott Street.

The major exterior work ended last year when the builders reached substantial completion on Nov. 15, 2013, said Peter Atkinson, the director of facilities planning and management for the Art Museums, in an interview Friday. At that point, builders were given a certificate of occupancy and staff could begin moving into the building.

Since then, the building has undergone a process called commissioning, in which all new internal systems, such as electrical systems, security technologies, and elevators, are tested. This process will continue in the upcoming months to insure that the Museum is ready for opening in November.

“It is a very smart building because of the assets we have in here that we are stewards in protecting,” said Atkinson.

The new facilities will contain a 300-seat lecture hall, seminar rooms, and a lab devoted to the study of art media materials. The Art Study Center, a major feature of building located on the fourth floor, includes spaces in which students, faculty, and others will be able to request objects for individual study from the collection that are not on display. The Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, a conservation, research, and training facility, will be located on the fifth floor of the new building.

“Renzo Piano has designed a building that is as beautiful as the works of art it will house and as thoughtful as the people who will work and learn within it,” University President Drew G. Faust said in the press release. “It will expand the ways in which we use art and art-making as part of the curriculum, and it will invite our neighbors and visitors to enjoy some of the University’s unparalleled treasures.”

Before the opening in November, the Art Museums will host events to celebrate the launch, beginning with an event dedicated to students, with events for donors, alumni, and other groups, as well as a special preview for Cambridge residents, to follow.

—Staff writer Emma C. Cobb can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @emmaccobb.