A prestigious Penn State university museum gets the Allied Works treatment

The Palmer Museum of Art opens in June at the entrance to the university’s botanical gardens

The architects from Allied Works have brought their skill for public spaces to central Pennsylvania. The new Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State opens to the public on 1 June in a new light-filled 7,000-square-metre location adjacent to the university’s HO Smith Botanic Gardens and Arboretum.

Principal architect Brad Cloepfil and his team at Allied Works designed a series of interlocking pavilions in local sandstone that engage with the grasslands and forests surrounding them. Within the property are courtyards and terraces designed in collaboration with landscape architect Reed Hilderbrand.

The design responds to its campus location and the rural life beyond by integrating art, architecture and landscape. The building’s interlocking volumes create double-height pavilions in the lobby entrance and galleries that benefit from blankets of natural light. Metal sunscreens on some windows project patterns of light onto the walls while protecting the art inside. Other openings provide views of the botanic gardens and surrounding Nittany Valley mountain ridge.

The Palmer is the most significant academic art museum in the state, with signature holdings of American paintings dating back to colonial times, as well as European, African, postwar and contemporary art and craft. Varying in height and proportion, the galleries are scaled to serve the diversity of genres embodied in the collection. The new building doubles the institution’s original exhibition space, and accommodates new public gathering rooms and classrooms.

‘The Palmer Museum of Art’s new location invites you on a walkthrough of the gardens and galleries as the building moves over the site,’ says Cloepfil. ‘Inside the museum, a rich field of new galleries are brought to life through the diversity of natural light. Tailored to the specific collection, the galleries lead you on a rhythmic journey of compression and release.’

‘A visit to the new Palmer Museum provides a remarkable opportunity to meander through spaces filled with works of art as though one were strolling through the landscape, experiencing art, architecture and nature as something both intimate and immense,’ adds museum director Erin M Coe. ‘It is my hope that visitors will not discern a separation between the architecture that contains these spaces and the outside landscape, but rather conceive of both as one.’

The concept that forms the core of the Palmer was also central to Allied Works’s proposal for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, which reopened in 2023.

The Ceramics Gallery.
The Ceramics Gallery. Photography: Jeremy Bittermann/JSBA
The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State University
Photography: Jeremy Bittermann/JSBA
Botanical Garden View.
Botanical Garden View. Photography: Jeremy Bittermann/JSBA

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