SITE Santa Fe has been closed and under construction for more than nine months, while the museum’s staff and patrons held their collective breath in anticipation of something dramatic. About halfway through the expansion project, the building’s stucco turned nearly black. Then its flanks began sporting paneling that was radically innovative, especially for Santa Fe: thick sandwiches of perforated-aluminum sheets with rhythmic joint patterns. The building front lost the white, scoopy forms that were installed by architect Greg Lynn for the 2012 exhibition More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness. The new facade is a wall of glass under a triangular “prow” feature that cantilevers about 60 feet out from the building.
The new SITE opens to the public with The Reveal, a 21-and-over party on the evening of Friday, Oct. 6; and community days Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 7 and 8, with fortune tellers, a photo booth, a time capsule project (bring your objects to be photographed), SITE tours and talks — and cupcakes. There are two opening art exhibitions. Future Shock, running from Oct. 7 to May 1, 2018, features paintings, drawings, sculptures, video, photography, and multimedia installations by 10 artists. The show’s title references the 1970 book by futurist Alvin Toffler. One of his points in that volume is eerily relevant in the age of the iPhone, several decades later: “In this book, I try to show that the rate of change has implications quite apart from, and sometimes more important than, the directions of change.” He advises that there must be a balance “between the pace of environmental change and the limited pace of human response.”
The second exhibition, Kota Ezawa: The Crime of Art, opens in a new SITElab space just off the enlarged lobby and hangs through Jan. 10, 2018. It features works related to the San Francisco artist’s series about famous museum heists in history. It’s an example of the short-run art shows that will hang there year-round, including when the main galleries are closed for installations of new exhibits. Access to SITElab is free seven days a week. SITE’s expanded store and its new coffee and snack bar are also open to guests at no charge.
Those goodies are part of a welcoming gesture built into the new SITE. People visiting SITElab and the bright lobby, shop, and mini-café can enjoy their coffee and socialize under the prow. Irene Hofmann, the museum’s Phillips Director and Chief Curator, anticipates that people will think of SITE not just as a place to encounter contemporary art, but as a gathering place. That was also behind SHoP Architects’ plan to make use of the “undertaxed triangle” at the front — not only has the lobby been expanded 30 feet outward, but the prow extends all the way out to Paseo de Peralta and the start of the ramada feature in Railyard Park.
The dramatic new entrance is the latest in a series of artistic treatments designed to call attention to the museum and to provoke exploration into what’s going on inside. The very first architect involved with the building was Richard Gluckman, who made the 1970 Coors warehouse “hospitable for art,” as Hofmann put it. SITE’s inaugural biennial exhibition Longing and Belonging: From the Faraway Nearby opened in July 1995 at the Museum of Fine Arts (today’s New Mexico Museum of Art) and at the renovated warehouse at 1606 Paseo de Peralta. Other architects who have worked with, and on, SITE Santa Fe besides Lynn are Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, who did the exhibition design for the museum’s seventh international biennial, Lucky Number Seven (2008); and David Adjaye, who designed the space for The Dissolve, the eighth biennial (2010).
In 2014, SITE hired the New York-based SHoP Architects to improve the functionality of the museum’s interior and to design additions. This is SHoP’s first museum project, but the firm is well known for projects such as 111 W. 57th Street (the Steinway Tower) in Manhattan, Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn, and the Uber headquarters in San Francisco. The new or remodeled spaces at SITE Santa Fe total about 10,000 square feet, boosting the total to 34,000 square feet. Besides SITElab (which is equipped with a giant wall that can be rotated to customize the spaces on both sides), there is the Education Lab, a 200-seat auditorium with state-of-the-art acoustics built into the walls and ceiling, and a new gathering space in the middle of the building: the Sky Mezzanine and courtyard. A large gallery designed with temperature and humidity controls was an important addition. It permits the museum to exhibit works it previously could not; currently in this space are artworks by Alexis Rockman, Andreas Gursky, Dario Robleto, and Andrea Zittel. The building’s new air-conditioning system will be a summertime blessing for both staff and visitors.
The original target cost for the project was $6 million, but the finished price tag is $8 million, Hofmann said. “We raised $11.1 million of the total goal of $11.7 million. The first $3 million of that total was to go into the endowment to support operating costs into the future. So we’re nearly done.”
About the dynamic design, she said SITE Santa Fe and SHoP Architects worked within the guidelines of the Railyard Master Plan, and the project was approved by the architectural review committee of the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation. The eye-opening feature facing Paseo de Peralta is repeated at the rear of the building. A less emphatic prow projects over the Event Porch, which will be used as an exit for some SITE events. The metal cladding forming the two prows (which the architects describe as “soaring layered and perforated facades”) extends some distance along the long side wall facing the park, terminating at acute angles — the metal forms thus appear as dynamically pointed parallelograms. Between them, the wall is stucco in a “midnight oil” color that SHoP has employed on several of its projects; it was part of the design that the building be basically black underneath the cladding. The other long wall, opposite the railroad tracks and Warehouse 21, is a long black rectangle punctuated by three or four large art panels.
The cladding itself is a complex sandwich of perforated-aluminum sheets. Peter Brill, president of Sarcon Construction, the contractor, said the 6-foot-wide panels came in steel cradles in 45-foot containers from Shanghai, where they were manufactured. The panels were fastened to brackets bolted to the walls. Wind load on the cladding was an important factor in the design, which did not increase the height of the SITE Santa Fe building.
The designs created by the panels’ edges were inspired by patterns in Native American rugs and pottery, said Ayumi Sugiyama, project director with SHoP Architects. The panels are attached to one another at varying depths, creating another design layer in their shadows. And when you walk or drive by, the perforations in the panels shift alignment, yielding a “moiré” visual-interference effect. “In terms of the concept for this cladding, we basically extruded, straight-up, a rhomboidal grid that you can picture as an egg crate, then we just carved away at the facade,” Sugiyama said last summer. “The angles of the facets are what create the geometric pattern.”
In a recent interview, she added that the panels were made in Shanghai because that facility has the ability to produce long material runs like the 20-foot heights used at SITE. “If we had used another company, we might have had to have a break and there would have been horizontal joints” breaking up the pattern. Sugiyama said the fact that you can see the bolts when you look closely and can thus understand how the cladding is put together relates to “the honesty of materials” in the area’s history, which included warehouses and railroad-related buildings.
In late September, Sarcon was adding one of the last touches: some simpler perforated-aluminum panels for the Sky Terrace. Asked if there were special challenges in the SITE project, Sugiyama said, “I’m finishing up a 825,000-square-foot building for American Copper here in New York and you have the same amount of challenges, big or small. We care a lot, we want to see things through. That can be difficult when we’re far away, but on our team we had SITE Santa Fe, which was constantly keeping a lookout for us; and the contractor that was very good at posting photos; and [Santa Fe] architect Greg Allegretti. He took our design and intent and created all the drawings and detailing for putting it into the building. Greg was there as the eyes on the ground, basically, to see it through.”
Sky Terrace, which is completely open to Santa Fe’s awesome celestial ceiling, has a variety of potted plants and seating, including an aluminum bench by the late architect Zaha Hadid. If you want to immerse yourself in her story and designs, head down to curated for a copy of Hadid: Complete Works 1979-Today by Philip Jodidio. It’s one in the selection of art books in the store, which also offers distinctive design objects, unique gifts, and artist-designed products like a scarf by Regina Silveira, who did the adhesive-vinyl insects on the front windows and in the mezzanine, works that comprise her Future Shock piece Mundus Admirabilis, 2007.
You may notice that these items rest on a distinctive fixture: a big, laminated-wood cube with a truncated corner. “SITE engaged SHoP to design a family of custom display components for their retail area,” SHoP Architects’ Cortez Crosby said. “The pieces are being fabricated by Dylan Weller of Wellbeloved Woodworks. The pieces are made from poplar planks that are organized in a square grid, and in some cases, they are shaped to achieve the truncated corner you are referring to. The pattern that emerges from this shaping process is a direct reference to the strategy that we used when designing the pattern of the new metal cladding.”
The drama of the new exterior is accentuated at night because the cladding glows with white LED lights placed inside them. At press time, Hofmann was still working on the lobby lighting and the appearance of that big, glassy facade from outside. “We have Ketra LED lamps that permit individual control. Once we figure out what the nighttime lighting is, that will be a programmable scene that will allow us, for example, to highlight Tom Sachs’ Mars Excursion Roving Vehicle that you’ll be able to see from outside.”
As she spoke, Hofmann looked out the massive glazed front to the street, addressing the manner in which the prow fills an unusually shaped corner of the property. “So much of what SHoP Architects does, you approach those buildings from the front, and if it’s in Manhattan, that’s it: the front, and up. They were so interested in the opportunity with the landscape here, in filling that triangle.” Speaking about the building’s new perspective, Sugiyama said, “That was our first take on it, that we need to extend this out — we have all this property — and to not just close it up like other developments would, but giving that open space to the community.”
SITE’s weekend open house includes an ARTchitectural tour with Ayumi Sugiyama at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7.
Correction: A previous version of this article said Ayumi Sugiyama's American Copper building in New York was 125,000 square feet. That has been corrected to 825,000 square feet.