BNIM Celebrates Opening of New Bloch Galleries

Design promotes public engagement and user experience

KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 9, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — On Saturday, the renovated Bloch Galleries in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a BNIM design, will open to the public. Situated in the museum's original 1933 Beaux-Arts building, the renovated galleries feature the Marion and Henry Bloch Collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art on view for the first time since 2007. Comprised of 29 masterpieces acquired by the Bloch family and gifted to the museum in 2010, the Bloch Collection nearly doubles the museum's current holdings of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art.

In a design that honors the museum's focus on public engagement and user experience, BNIM introduced a contemporary gallery space within the historic structure. The new achievement is best described as a high performance new building carefully inserted into the historic shell. This was accomplished while the museum continued operating without missing a single day of operations and as the museum experienced record attendance.

The new galleries consist of three large lay lit gallery volumes—dynamically linked to each other—that utilize free-standing partitions for display and three intimately scaled hard ceiling galleries for works on paper, pastels and gallery entrance. The new galleries were designed as a model for future alterations for other parts of the museum based on creating more porosity and accessibility for galleries and collections. Diagonal views into and between galleries are emphasized creating intrigue and intimacy. The design team opened up the north galleries to create a more generous space with a view to on-going flexibility and the possibility of future reconfiguration. The project also included redesigning an existing stair to level two making patron movement between collections more inviting and comfortable.

"Working with the Museum team on this project has been extraordinary," says BNIM design principal and CEO Steve McDowell. "It was an honor to be entrusted by Mr. Bloch and the trustees to create an environment that will elevate the Museum's engagement mission and focus on user experience, bringing important technology solutions to a demanding space. We are always delighted when results exceed expectations. The presentation of the paintings and overall experience of the new tunable LED lighting system reveals colors and light in the paintings not experienced in previous settings."

The set of galleries is carefully designed to immerse individuals and group visitors into the collection and the open viewing experience with enhanced sightlines encourages viewers to make connections among works: the pieces themselves are displayed in the context of colors and materials meticulously selected.

Innovations in lighting build on the Nelson-Atkins' legacy. Ketra LED lighting is used throughout. This tunable dynamic white lighting can simulate the environments for which the works were originally created and allow precise control of lighting color and intensity on each specific artwork in the galleries. The lighting system will also enable the Museum to produce pre-programmed light shows and replicate the full spectrum natural light from warm, morning light to twilight.

Further enhancing the gallery experience, innovations in audio technology allow movement throughout the space. Using a combination of Wi-Fi and Beacon technology the Bloch Galleries will feature an audio system which can follow docents as they progress through the space; as a docent passes from one room to the next, their amplified voice will transition between speaker zones. The system, hidden beneath fabric wallcoverings, will also be used to introduce ambient music that is contemporary to the artwork being exhibited.

Power and data infrastructure is hidden within the gallery floors and behind decorative metal bar grilles that are part of the base molding, facilitating the installation of interactive digital media displays throughout the Galleries; interactive kiosks will teach visitors about the collection.

The Bloch Galleries Renovation is one of a series of sequential renovation projects at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art where BNIM has served as Museum Architect. Beginning in 1999, BNIM has worked closely with the Nelson-Atkins to create modern, high-performance gallery environments which are respectful of the historical Nelson-Atkins Building; in addition to their work in the Nelson-Atkins Building, BNIM served as Architect of Record on the Bloch Building expansion in 2007 working closely with Steven Holl Architects.