Fogg Art Museum Renovation Under Way

UPDATED. A wholesale renovation and reconstruction of Harvard’s flagship Fogg Art Museum has begun, despite the challenging financial environment.

This rendering, from Broadway and Quincy Street, shows the renovated Fogg building with its glass rooftop.
In this view at the corner of Prescott Street, the new construction—gallery space and a new entrance—is shown, replacing the Busch-Reisinger and fine arts library complex.

Updated January 26

The complete renovation and reconstruction of the Fogg Art Museum—closed in June 2008 so its art could be removed—is now visibly under way. Although interior demolition and preparation for the huge project have proceeded in recent months, the University’s strained financial situation—manifest in the December decision to halt construction on the Allston science complex and to search for partners to invest in its completion—had led to doubts that the museum project could proceed. Design and permitting work had advanced, and the expectation had been that the work would be let out for bid in the spring of 2009. But the financial crisis and the scope of the Fogg work, as originally outlined, apparently caused that schedule to slip, despite the announcement in 2008 of leadership gifts from David Rockefeller '36, G '37, LL.D. '69, and Emily Rauh Pulitzer, A.M. '63. According to Thomas Lentz, Cabot director of the Harvard Art Museum, both fundraising (which continues) and the long, complicated planning and design for this "complex" project extended the timeline. Now, in light of Harvard Corporation approval in December, the major work has begun, although it has not been formally announced. "We're quite pleased and relieved," Lentz said, understandably.

As of this morning, work crews in Skanska safety vests (the name of the construction manager) were installing electrical conduit on the building’s exterior; the routes of underground electrical cables were flagged to guide safe excavations; and the loading dock on Broadway, constructed to facilitate the removal of the museum collections to safe storage facilities, was being demolished. Construction updates are available here; the project description gives a sense of the scope of the work, involving demolition of 50,000 square feet of space, renovation of 104,000 square feet, and new construction totaling 100,000 square feet.

The renovation, previously estimated to cost $350 million or more, will result in the removal of the Busch-Reisinger Museum wing, added to the back of the Fogg complex in 1991; complete interior renovation and replacement of utility systems that date to the early twentieth century, and installation of climate controls essential to the preservation of the collection and objects on loan for exhibitions; construction of new gallery space and a new entrance on Prescott Street; and creation of study spaces on the upper floors (see the rendering at that link), where students and faculty members can access the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Arthur M. Sackler Museum collections, all of which come under the Harvard Art Museum structure.

Compared to the plans of 2008, one refinement is that upper-level atrium floors, where the study centers will be housed and the conservation labs relocated, have been reduced from three stories to two. Lentz said the massing and overall plan for the building have remained intact during recent reviews, final revisions, and careful scrutiny of overall costs. The project remains on budget, and final design details are being worked out—for the circulation of light into the central courtyard, for instance—as work proceeds toward complete construction drawings by the end of February. 

The project architect is Renzo Piano.

Given the planned 36-month construction schedule and then a year to commission the building's systems and reinstall the art collections, the  museum complex could re-open in 2013—Lentz held out hope for operations by the beginning of the academic year that fall. The result, he said, would be not just a museum, but "a kind of teaching machine" of use to Harvard's entire faculty, the University community, and visitors.

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