Westmoreland museum's exhibits will travel during two-year expansion

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The Westmoreland Museum of American Art will be closed for about two years for an expansion and renovation of its building in Greensburg, but that doesn't mean its exhibitions and programs will be unavailable to the public.

During the closure, the museum's displays, educational presentations and other activities will continue at a variety of locations in the community, according to director and CEO Judith H. O'Toole.

The Greensburg Historic Architectural Review Board has approved the renovation plan for the building on North Main Street, and groundbreaking is anticipated for August or September. The museum is scheduled to reopen in spring 2015.

The museum will gain about 13,500 square feet allotted to gallery, education, storage and public spaces, and it will meet LEED silver building standards.

Planning to expand the building's footprint to accommodate a growing collection and additional educational programming began in 2009. The museum formed an architectural steering committee headed by Westmoreland trustee Harry A. Thompson II in 2010 and invited public input through a series of design sessions called "charettes."

Several architectural firms were reviewed, focusing on those having experience with museums and/or with adding to existing historic structures. Ennead Architects of New York City was selected to design the new wing and renovate the original structure. LaQuatra Bonci Landscape of Pittsburgh was chosen to reconfigure the grounds with an emphasis on visually integrating the museum with Greensburg's downtown and cultural district.

Visitors still will enter through the original 1959 building from the north and the south. A group of trees will be planted at the north entrance, Ms. O'Toole wrote in an email, where a visitor drop-off area will be added to accommodate cars and buses.

The south approach will be softened by a new green space intended to "serve both museum visitors and the city of Greensburg with its surrounding neighborhoods," Ms. O'Toole wrote. The space will incorporate several pedestrian walkways and garden areas featuring indigenous plants. Terraces will extend from the east side of the original building facade, continuing under the new cantilevered section and toward nearby St. Clair Park.

The parking area will move to the south end of the museum property. A walkway that complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act and steps will connect the lot with the museum entry.

An arcade fronting the south side of the museum will provide a transition from the west wing, which was added in 1968, across the original structure to the new east wing. Three vertical windows extending the full height of the 1959 building will mark the museum entrance. A new lobby stair and a reconfigured north entrance landing will draw light into the museum.

"A dramatic 10-foot window will be cut into the side of the west [wing] wall along Main Street, echoing the treatment of the cantilever's skin and providing an exciting element for visitors at the end of their experience in the galleries," Ms. O'Toole wrote.

Inside, visitors will ascend a staircase or an elevator to the galleries, all of which will be on the second floor. Sixteen-foot ceilings in the cantilevered wing will accommodate contemporary art. The collection will be arranged beginning with the most contemporary art and continuing in reverse chronology to the earliest works. "The building [old and new] is being designed holistically so that the visitor will feel as if it is one experience and will not be aware of moving from new to old [spaces]," Ms. O'Toole wrote.

The expansion is supported by a $38 million campaign that includes both Capital and Endowment funds.

Ennead Architects has been awarded 11 American Institute of Architects National Honor Awards, five of which have been for museum projects.

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Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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