WILLIAMSTOWN — The Williams College Museum of Art is planning a new building with more gallery space — and more visibility to the public.
College officials are planning to construct the new building on the site of the old Williams Inn, which closed in July 2019 and was demolished the following year. A new inn was built at the bottom of Spring Street.
“It’s a tremendous location, right at the gateway to Williamstown,” said Pamela Franks, director of WCMA. “It’s highly visible and more accessible.”
The museum is currently located in Lawrence Hall on Main Street, around the corner from Spring Street. It is tucked away, with a main entrance that doesn’t face the street. It shares the space with the college’s art department.
On Wednesday, college officials announced that architectural firm SO-IL will design the new museum, a process expected to take roughly eight months.
The project provides the first stand-alone structure for WCMA, whose collection — with about 15,000 pieces — has been housed in Lawrence Hall since 1851. The project is contingent on a vote of approval from the Williams College Board of Trustees
Based in Brooklyn, N.Y., SO-IL principals Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg established the practice in 2008. The firm has become known for projects including the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the University of California at Davis, and an art campus for the nonprofit arts organization Amant in New York.
Williams College President Maud Mandel selected SO-IL on the recommendation of a 12-member Architect Selection Committee. The committee considered nearly 40 national and international architecture firms, then narrowed the candidates to a shortlist of four.
The decision came after a two-year planning and program study conducted in consultation with Deborah Berke Partners in New York.
“Art is at the center of everything we do for our students, our campus, and our community, and so building a new home for Williams College Museum of Art is a focal point of the College’s strategic plan,” Mandel said in a prepared statement. “While the caliber and creativity of all the shortlisted candidates were awe-inspiring, SO-IL’s inventive and enthusiastic approach to our museum’s teaching mission stood out.”
Strategically, the new museum will be in plain site to the hundreds or art lovers coming to visit the Clark Art Institute and Mass MoCA, who will drive right by it to come in or out of Williamstown.
Franks said the college wants the design of the new museum to reflect the natural vistas and the college campus.
“It will be a beautiful sign about how important the arts are to the college and the region,” she said.
“We are honored to be working with the Williams community to envision the new Williams College Museum of Art, a project the brings together our passion for the arts with our commitment to education,” said SO-IL co-founders Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg in a prepared statement. “The new museum will connect the campus to the larger cultural ecosystem of the Northern Berkshires and provide an opportunity to advance innovative, sustainable building and museum practices.”