Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York, by Herzog & de Meuron, 2012
One month after its November 2012 opening I drove out to Long Island to visit the Parrish Art Museum, also checking out the Houses at Sagaponac. Much of the modern architecture in the Hamptons, like the Houses at Sagaponac, is fairly hidden as residential enclaves or beach houses. On the other hand it's hard to miss the Parrish Art Museum, which overlooks the Montauk Highway, the area's main east-west thoroughfare. The institution was previously housed in a much smaller space in nearby Southampton, but at 615-feet (187 meters) long, the new building gives the museum a substantial presence, even as its fairly conservative form is inspired by the area's vernacular architecture.
The Parrish Art Museum is designed by Herzog & de Meuron, with local architect Douglas Moyer. The completed building was not their first approved scheme for the building. Initially they broke each gallery into a separate pavilion, loosely assembling them in a tight cluster on the large site. But a large budget and inadequate fundraising pointed to either shelving the project or paring it down. The latter happened when partner-in-charge Ascan Mergenthaler sketched what became the final design: a long building with all of the galleries and other functions under a twin-gable profile. Everything else, it could be argued, is in the details, and the Parrish offers much to be appreciated in this regard.
An ordered sequence of post, beam and truss defines the unifying backbone of the building. Its materialization is a direct expression of readily accessible building materials and local construction methods. -Herzog & de Meuron
By paring down the building to a simple linear volume, the project brings four main architectural elements to the fore: floor, wall, structure, and roof. In order, these elements can be described as a thin plinth upon which the building sits; a rough concrete enclosure that is smoothed at the benches where people interact with the building; exposed steel and wood diagonals that give a strong rhythm to the long building; and a lightweight yet large cover that is punctuated by skylights in the galleries. Inside, the experience is defined by all of these elements but the concrete walls, which are covered in the same white drywall that lines the central, double-loaded corridor. The white walls work with the wood, steel, and concrete to create spaces inspired by artists' studios, most apparent through the gable form and abundance of natural light in the galleries.
The long building is split roughly into thirds, from west to east: entrance (with gift shop, cafe, auditorium, restrooms, and terrace), galleries, and administration. This means that even though the central corridor appears very long, the full length of the building is only really grasped from within when under the eaves, where the aforementioned benches turn these circulation routes into places of rest. They also highlight the two sides of the site, the large field of grass fronting the building and the parking area at the rear. Like the building, this splitting of the site into three (field, building, parking) gives the overall project its structure and strong presence off the Montauk Highway—the building is at a slight angle to the road, so its length is accentuated, but so are its gable forms. The parking, it should be noted, is not an afterthought. With landscape architect Reed Hilderbrand, the parking is a beautiful and responsible design, incorporating bioswales that reduce stormwater runoff while echoing the line of the building. Traversing the bridges over these swales is the first direct experience with the project, clearly illustrating the consideration put into the whole.