Gabi Logan

Museum renovations give new homes for old collections


Gabi Logan
Published February 10, 2014

This year, as many of America’s top museums celebrate their centennials, we are reminded that many of our nation’s favorite cultural institutions have grown far beyond their initial homes.

Here are five museums that are completing major renovation and expansion projects this year.


Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

New York

“Like many on Fifth Avenue, I’m having a little work done,” proclaim posters at Andrew Carnegie’s former New York City abode, now home to the Cooper-Hewitt, part of the Smithsonian Museums.

Though it has undergone several renovations since opening as a museum, the current work will create 16,000 square feet of gallery space, overhaul the extensive outdoor garden and bring the building up to LEED standards. As the design of the building itself is an integral part of the museum, restoring period details has been a priority.

The initial phase of the renovation relocated the National Design Library to a dedicated space with a reading room and rare-book room, expanding the available gallery space by 60 percent.

The 111-year-old building will reopen to the public this year, but at the time of publication, no official date had been announced.


Delta Flight Museum


It’s a big year for airlines with the American Airlines and US Airways merger, but Delta is poised to make it even bigger when it celebrates its 85th anniversary with the reopening of the Delta Flight Museum June 17.

Formerly the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum, the designated Historic Aerospace Site comprises the oldest surviving buildings at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport.

In the restored hangars, visitors can wander decommissioned aircraft, including one of the airline’s 1940s DC-3 planes and the Spirit of Delta, a Boeing 767-200. A complete cockpit has been incorporated into a Boeing 737-200 flight simulator so visitors can try their hand at flying a Delta plane themselves.


Harvard Art Museums

Cambridge, Massachusetts

The reopening of Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, which has been closed since 2008, marks a reinvention of the entire concept of the Harvard Art Museums. Three previously separate entities will, for the first time, be co-located and physically connected in a sweeping redesign by award-winning architect Renzo Piano.

While the museums are primarily teaching facilities, the renovation will make the museums more accessible to the public, particularly through the creation of a piazza-style central courtyard with a cafe and two shops that is open to the public.

The glass-tiled ceiling on the new third floor allows certain galleries to be seen in natural light and offers visitors sweeping views of Cambridge, Boston and the Charles River.

On the fourth floor, the art study center allows the public to interact directly with art in rooms where pieces from the collection are hung for group viewing. When the museums open in the fall, students will be trained as docents to lead group tours of 15 to 20 participants.


National Civil Rights Museum

Memphis, Tennessee

Located at the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the 23-year-old National Civil Rights Museum explores the history of American civil rights issues dating back to 1619, when the first African slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.

Exhibits explore concrete episodes such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike through the places and objects connected with each event. New multimedia infrastructure will allow visitors to dive into history with smart tables and automated exhibit multimedia.

Tours move chronologically up to the assassination, the fulcrum of the museum, before exploring the worldwide consequences of the American civil rights movement. Group tours last roughly two hours.

For a short time, until the renovations are completed, visitors can stand in the exact spot where King was killed. The museum will reopen to the public on March 1.


Baltimore Museum of Art


Coinciding with the museum’s centennial on November 23, the Baltimore Museum of Art will conclude a series of renovations that will reshape the visitor experience from entrance to gallery viewing.

After limited display during the renovation, the complete 30,000-piece American collection, which covers art from the 18th century to the 1960s, will be reinstalled in the restored Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing. Artworks from the likes of Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe round out a collection of objects that includes presidential china and Tiffany windows.

The sweeping reopening will include the unveiling of two historic entrances, including the original grand entrance that has been closed for 30 years. At present, the limited entrance space restricts group size, but after the reopening, it will be possible to accommodate groups of up to 90.