Email Us – or – CALL (757) 664-6200

The Evolution of our Building

Old picture of the building

Hard to believe, but up until 25 years ago, our building looked like this. It's quite a story to see how a Brutalist facade became a marvel of Italianate architectural style. Click image to enlarge.

What It Took To Get It Right

What follows is from a report in the McGraw-Hill magazine Architectural Record from July, 1989:

"The Chrysler ... opened in 1933 with one wing of what was to be a U-shaped palazzo fronting The Hague. It was a bad time for big plans and the grand designs drawn up by architects Peebles and Ferguson were seriously compromised from the very outset. Although two other wings were completed by 1938, the arched entrance loggia and the open arcade surrounding the central courtyard were bricked up in order to add more interior square footage. As a result, the museum lost the services of the courtyard as an orienting feature and found itself without a grand entrance.

"Two later additions—one in 1965, a second in 1974—went off on their own architectural tangents, applying further levels of confusion to an already muddled plan. The 1965 work, done in a stripped-down Classical style by William and Geoffrey Platt, pinwheeled two new wings around an assymetrically placed tower. Nine years later, Williams and Tazewell placed a Brutalist concrete block on the eastern side of the site (facing the city, instead of The Hague) and moved the entrance to the Museum along with it."

In 1989 the architectural firm of Hartman-Cox came up with a plan to simplify and harmonize the beautiful building we know today. To again quote the Architectural Record report:

"First, the architects moved the main entrance back to The Hague facade and opened up the loggia so it could finally serve as the grand welcoming feature it was originally intended to be.

"Second, they balanced the front elevation with a new wing of galleries and a second tower. To create a unified composition, the architects wrapped the new buildings, as well as the 1965 addition, in the same limestone as the original structure.

"Third, they covered the central courtyard with a glass roof and opened it to the arcades that surround it on three sides.

" .. Finally, Hartman-Cox surrounded (and thus concealed) the 1974 addition with a new library wing. ... The result is a museum that reads as a unified building instead of a hodgepodge of additions. ... Some may question the ethics of resurfacing, and hence obliterating, one era's architecture with another material, but in this particular case, it's hard to argue with the final product.

"The centerpiece of the project is clearly (Huber Court), an impressive space topped with wooden trusses inspired by 15th Century Florentine roofs. At the far end of the courtyard is a new staircase that is monumental enough to hold its own in such a grand room yet carefully proportioned so it doesn't steal the show."


For the record, the 1989 project added 43,000 square feet of new galleries and renovated 40,800 square feet of existing galleries. It cost $13.5 million.

Pop-Up Photos
Trace Our History

It's nothing new to be expanding our building. We did it in the '30s, '60s, '70s and '80s.

Click the links (red type) below to see the pictures pop up.

We start with a hole in the ground and progress to the single wing of what would have been a three-wing building if the Depression hadn't intervened. By 1938, here's how it looked from the air, here's how it looked from the back, and here's how it looked from The Hague.

The '60s construction phase added a new tower and two new wings. Here's how it looked from above and here's how it looked from street level.

The '70s expansion added a new wing and a new architectural style. It's a style that, in architectural terms, fell out of favor quickly.

The '80s renovation was truly inspired. It covered every odd surface with limestone that matched the original building. It balanced the view from the front by adding a second tower and a new wing with matching garden, and it replaced a decades-old compromise with a grand entrance. The greatest change, however, was enclosing the open courtyard and the creation of what's now known as Huber Court.