Zuckerman Museum of Art by Stanley Beaman & Sears a Cultural Beacon
In just the last year, an unlikely arts scene has emerged more than twenty-file miles north-west of downtown Atlanta. On the campus of Kennesaw State University (KSU), the state's third-largest public institution of higher-education, the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art (ZMA) has been the impetus for this renaissance in an area of the metro formerly known more for exurban sprawl than exquisite sculptures. The ZMA, designed by Atlanta-based firm Stanley Beaman & Sears (SBS), not only brought the first art museum to a University System of Georgia institution in more than 30 years, but planted the seeds for the growth of a new cultural district in the greater Atlanta area.Kennesaw State University opened as a junior college in 1966; fueled by unbridled growth of the northern suburbs in the last two decades, the school has fostered an academic reputation attracting not just Georgians, but students from across the southeast. To meet the needs of the blossoming student population, KSU has focused on bolstering basic campus needs such as dormitories, dining halls and academic spaces as the campus flourished - construction on campus has been omnipresent in an attempt to provide for the student body, now numbering more than 30,000. By 2010, the University's permanent art collection, established in 1984, had grown to fill three galleries spread across the campus. With almost 1,000 students enrolled in the College of Arts, the arrangement was less than ideal and did little justice for the growing prestige of the program. Bernard A Zuckerman, a local philanthropist, benefactor and widower of sculptress Ruth V. Zuckerman - whose works are held in the permanent collection of KSU - recognized the need for a consolidated arts space to unite the university's collections. In 2011 Zuckerman donated $2 million to see the dream to fruition, with further support from the KSU Foundation. The location for the museum was selected adjacent to the existing Bailey Performance Center, a music and performing arts space constructed in 2007 to serve the nearby College of Arts. Small but prominent, the selected site sits on a hill above a main street through campus, envisioned to become a tree-lined pedestrian mall, which connects the residential and academic districts of campus. With the location, the University, planning to build more than just an art museum for the campus, intended the Zuckerman Museum to "be a strong addition to the cultural fabric of the community," said director Justin Rabideau, who, with his staff, played a hands-on role in the design process. Stanley Beaman & Sears rose to the challenges presented by site, budget, project scale and the ambitious goals of the institution. With community outreach a primary goal, Betsy Beaman, AIA, a principal of SBS, stated that the architects conceived the building to stand out from the predominantly red-and-beige brick buildings which compose the campus. In that goal, the museum is a resounding success. Distinctive, though far from out of place, SBS contextualized the building to its surroundings through appropriation and redeployment of proximate campus design elements - the cadence of an existing retaining wall, the striations on the big brick volume of the theater of the Bailey, etc. - onto the façade of the Zuckerman Museum. Although the 9,200-square-foot building slips into the side of a hill crowned by the much larger mass of the Bailey Performance Center, the museum immediately asserts itself with its striking bold black and glossy white façade. Rotated off-axis, the building directly addresses a main vehicular entry to the campus, announcing arrival at the new "Arts District." A two-story glass atrium highlighting the public circulation space and entrance stands at the corner of the building, adjacent to the parking lot and primary pedestrian path. The entrance is marked by an unobtrusive awning created by a subtle outward cant of the upper portion of the façade. The exterior materials indicate the function of the straightforward interior spatial arrangement. Most of the façade at ground level is composed of black concrete block, lending a sense of stability and rigidity to the edifice, appropriately enwrapping the storage and support spaces. The second floor, which contains the gallery space, is veiled in light white metal panels, providing excellent contrast to the heavy massing below. The parapet is crenelated in a pattern based on the Fibonacci sequence. Adding a layer of texture, the design move pays homage to the importance of the mathematical phenomena in nature, visual art and music. Inside, the highlight of the building is the light-filled second floor gathering space, which connects the entry stair to the Bailey Performance Center. Light filters through frosted glazing on the east side of the building, while across a terrace to the west, patrons catch a glimpse of Kennesaw Mountain. The space is used for visual art exhibits as well as performance art pieces; Rabideau likens it to a "laboratory" for all art forms. In expectation of further growth, the space is situated to become a central lobby between two wings of an expanded museum. A space as much for education as exhibition, the "laboratory" is often used for lectures and outreach programs in conjunction with the adjoining single gallery space. The gallery is a large room painted a light gray with polished concrete floors and a ceiling of exposed systems: an understated space designed for flexibility while allowing the focus to be decidedly on the art. For the opening exhibition, Seeing Through Walls, the space was divided by semi-permanent partitions with the perimeter walls painted a deep-blue to serve as a backdrop for works from the collection, hung salon-style. The gallery has since demonstrated its versatility, having been reconfigured to accommodate both larger installations and multi-media displays. The opening of the museum was hailed by the greater arts community and noted by Architectural Record, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Arts Atlanta - the city's preeminent art news and critique publication. Success was not without controversy, with a highly publicized art censorship debate which arose surrounding the removal of Ruth Stanford's "A Walk in the Valley" before the opening of the gallery. No great triumph can be without adversity, and upon reinstatement of the installation, the museum has garnered nothing but positive attention with a myriad of exhibitions in the intervening year. Recognized by AIA Georgia with a Citation of Excellence for 2014, the museum has attracted attention from the architectural community among nationally recognized high-profile projects which also opened in Atlanta last year. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the greater-Atlanta community has recognized the importance of the space. Patron numbers have tripled in the year since the opening and the museum was recognized as the "Best New Art Museum" by Atlanta Magazine. In December 2014, Curbed Atlanta listed the Zuckerman among the top ten "Biggest Development Debuts" of the year, putting it among high-profile downtown developments such as Freelon Group's National Center for Civil and Human Rights and tvsdesign's National College Football Hall of Fame. The ZMA was built to be an iconic addition to the KSU campus. The goal was ultimately realized through major collaboration of University stakeholders, museum staff, donors and the design team of Stanley Beaman & Sears. A small fish in the big pond of Atlanta cultural institutions, the Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University has, in just a year, established a name for itself and has already become a beacon for art for the region.