For nearly four years, SITE Santa Fe’s front facade — defined by Los Angeles architect Greg Lynn’s white-painted, flower-petal form and two scooplike projections — has been a modestly arresting sight. It’s 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. In the next year and a half, a much more dramatic entrance will be constructed as part of a $6 million remodel.

SITE (1606 Paseo de Peralta) has engaged SHoP Architects, New York, to improve the functionality of the museum’s interior and to design additions. Plans by the firm’s Christopher Sharples, Ayumi Sugiyama, and Cortez Crosby call for adding 7,600 square feet to the rear of the building; in this space will also be a 250-seat auditorium/multipurpose room and breezy mezzanine and courtyard spaces. A humidity-controlled gallery will be built into the existing building.

The real drama comes in the project’s exterior treatment. At the front, an extravagant, wedge-shaped “prow” of textured metal cantilevers more than 50 feet out from the building. The top is open to the sky. Underneath the prow, people can see into the tall, glassy face of an addition to the front. Inside is a new space with an expanded lobby and store, and a coffee bar. “You start to imagine SITE as a gathering space,” said Irene Hofmann, the museum’s Phillips Director and chief curator, “not just a place to come see an exhibition, but also for people to gather.”

When SITE announced the project last October, Hofmann said the museum staff and board had been working for two years on a plan for substantial improvements to coincide with SITE’s 20th anniversary this year. “First on our list was air conditioning. Because of the lack of temperature and humidity control, besides our discomfort and that of visitors, there was artwork we were denied, and many works we didn’t even try to obtain, because they were delicate, they were paper, or it was archival materials. Also, the fact that SITE is always closed in June has always been a challenge. We plan to add an 1,800-square-foot gallery in the front of the building that will allow us to have year-round exhibitions.”

The construction of what Hofmann called “an iconic envelope” includes another, less emphatic prow feature over a new entrance at the rear. The rear addition continues the line of the building’s southeast facade, but does not advance closer to the adjacent Railyard Park. There will be no increase in height, either. “This is a modest project, a modest budget. We’re not taking our building down,” she said.

SITE and SHoP worked within the guidelines of the Railyard Master Plan, and the project was approved by the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation architectural design review committee. Santa Fe architect Greg Allegretti did the construction drawings. Hofmann said the project cost is “quite a modest price for what we gain: The whole building will look new. In addition, our SITE Tomorrow campaign has a $10 million goal, so we’re raising money for the building and for future operating expenses, and for our endowment.”

Here’s how SHoP describes the finished product: “The building’s low-slung form establishes a dialogue with Santa Fe Railyard Park and surrounding buildings, while an entrance court and rear porch, framed by a soaring layered and perforated facade, create public gathering spaces and invite guests inside.”

“This is SHoP’s first museum. That is extraordinary,” Hofmann said. “It is very lucky for us that we meet up with them at the exact moment when we need them and they need us.” She said the SHoP collaboration is just the latest in “a timeline of SITE Santa Fe working with world-class architects.” The list includes Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, who did the exhibition design for the Seventh International Biennial: Lucky Number Seven (2008); David Adjaye, who designed the space for The Dissolve, the museum’s Eighth International Biennial (2010); and Lynn’s curved entry shells fabricated of cloth and resin for 2012’s More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness.

ShoP Architects, established in 1996, has more than 180 architects, designers, and engineers. “At the heart of the firm’s method,” according to a mission statement, “is a willingness to question accepted patterns of practice, coupled with the courage to expand, where necessary, beyond the architect’s traditional roles.”

The business is profiled in the exhibition workSHoP, showing through May 22 at SITE Santa Fe. Via models, photographs, renderings, and moving images, workSHoP profiles eight projects that reportedly inform the design of SITE’s new building: 475 W. 18th St., New York; Uber Headquarters, San Francisco; LaGuardia Airport Master Plan, Queens, New York; Botswana Innovation Hub, Republic of Botswana; 111 W. 57th St., New York; Domino Sugar Refinery Master Plan, Brooklyn, New York; Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York; and Konza Techno Pavilion, Nairobi, Kenya. Also part of the exhibition are an impressive, gauzy model of the SITE entrance prow, two-thirds scale and made of Tyvek; and a wall-size “super graphic” image that shows visitors a future view, looking out at the front prow from the lobby.

The decision to make use of the “undertaxed triangle” at the front of SITE Santa Fe was important for Sharples, the SHoP partner in charge; and Sugiyama, project manager and lead designer for the firm’s Barclays Center Arena at 626 First Ave. in Brooklyn, along with the SITE Santa Fe expansion. During a March 18 interview at SITE, SHoP associate Crosby said, “I remember on our first trip, Chris Sharples thought of really capitalizing on the unusual shape of the approach from the intersection.” The idea is for the open prow to be welcoming, used for café overflow, as a place to exhibit sculpture, and as a gathering space.

The metal material forming the prows at both ends of the building (once a beer warehouse) extends some distance along the side walls, terminating at acute angles — the metal forms thus appear as dynamically pointed parallelograms. Between them, the wall is finished in a gray stucco. The cladding material itself is a complex sandwich of perforated-aluminum sheets. The designs created by their edges were inspired by patterns in Native American pottery and rugs. 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, which yields a rippling “moiré” visual interference effect.

“This is a great opportunity in this Railyard area — that they’re allowing for different materials,” Sugiyama said during a conversation about allowable building types in the city’s historic district and in the Railyard. “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. The angles of the facets is what creates the geometric pattern.” The architects at SHoP use computer-aided design software to experiment with building possibilities. Crosby said they use Grasshopper, a visual-programming-language plugin for the Rhinoceros CAD program. They are able to output models such as those in the workSHoP exhibit with a large 3-D printer and smaller MakerBots.

Sugiyama said the “tectonics” of the metal cladding relate to the honesty of materials in the old railroad yards. “You can see the bolts exposed, so you can understand the way it’s put together. We do have integral lighting in the cladding, but you don’t see the source. It will glow.”

“We’re very excited about that,” Crosby added, “because our initial approach was uplighting, to sort of wash the exterior, but that would have been much more intense.”

Groundbreaking on the rear portion of the remodel is set to begin in August. The biennial SITElines 2016 opens in July and comes down in January; at that point, the building closes for construction of the front addition and prow. The new museum should be complete in the fall of 2017. ◀

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