Chace Center Opens in Providence

Sep 8, 2008Updated 2 weeks ago

Chace Center
After a two-year construction period, the Rhode Island School of Design is opening the Chace Center, a five-story, 43,000-square-foot glass and brick structure built on a former parking lot. The Center will significantly increase the exhibition and programming capabilities of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (The RISD Museum). The $34 million center was named in honor of the late Malcolm and Beatrice “Happy” Oenslager Chace.

Designed by Spain's Pritzker Prize-winning architect José Rafael Moneo, the building faces the Providence riverfront and downtown. It is situated at 20 North Main Street near the intersection of College Street, which leads up to Brown University in one direction and across the Providence River into the Downcity area of downtown in the other.

Contemporary Architecture Within Historic Context

Designed by Moneo to fit on a site bordered on three sides by historic buildings, The Chace Center will be the only contemporary example of a building by an architect of this stature and international prominence in Providence. The building features a façade that includes both clear and etched glass complemented by red brick.

The horizontal courses of glass are accentuated by aluminum fins at the corners of the building, giving the glass upward motion. The placement of the windows on the North face is composed in a Mondrian-like effect that distinguishes each floor through their shifting pattern. The low iron, “water clear” glass is backed by a mirrored surface and acid etched on the outer face to give it a silvery look. Built in coves, the clear glass windows bisect floors at interesting heights and depths, creating both unusual views into galleries and out to the surrounding city streets. UV-shielding gallery windows allow the use of natural light while still protecting artwork.

The horizontal band of brick, monolithic in tone due to the matching-colored mortar, appears to both anchor the building and float between the plate glass of the store front below and the mercurial glass façade above. The brick references traditional materials of the Providence city-scape, yet is distinguished from them by intense color.

The Floorplan

The Chace Center’s first floor offers a campus visitor services center, the Metcalf Auditorium, retail space, and a small café. The second floor houses the Gelman Student Gallery, which will give the public opportunities to see the latest work produced by RISD’s up-and-coming artists and designers and will further enhance the relationship between the College and the public. A smaller second-floor space, the Dryfoos Student Media Gallery, is devoted to new media, film, and video, and the Minskoff Center on the fourth floor houses one of the Museum’s largest and most-studied collections, affording students and scholars unparalleled access to these works. The fifth floor is home to studio space and faculty offices. Third floor gallery spaces will be hung with travelling exhibitions and shows drawn from the Museum’s extensive permanent collection.

The Chace Center will also house the 200-seat Michael P. Metcalf Auditorium; a retail space including RISD works and a Museum shop; and student exhibition, classroom, and studio spaces. Situated on North Main Street, the building is already widely hailed for its innovative design. It has earned a Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Architect Jose Rafael MoneoJosé Rafael Moneo, the first Josep Lluis Sert Professor in Architecture at the Harvard School of Design, was particularly inspired by the site for The Chace Center and the historic campus buildings that surround it. Internationally lauded for his visually delightful, sensitive, and thought-provoking designs, Moneo has received the British Royal Medal of Architecture, gold medals from the French Academy of Architecture and the International Union of Architects, Spain’s Gold Medal for Achievement in the Arts, and the 1996 Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest prize, among other honors.

In the U.S., his best-known designs are the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (Los Angeles), the Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College, and the Audrey Jones Beck Building at the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston). Moneo’s international projects include the renovation of Villahermosa Palace (Madrid), Bankinter Building (Madrid), the Museum of Roman Art (Mérida), the L’Illa building (Barcelona), the Pilar and Joan Miró Museum (Palma de Mallorca), the “Kursaal” Auditorium and Congess Center (San Sebastián), and the extension of the Prado Museum (Madrid).

Chihuly as First ExhibitorRISD alumnus Dale Chihuly (’68 MFA) will create a special site-specific installation as the inaugural exhibition for the new special exhibition gallery in the Chace Center. His large-scale works recall botanical and marine forms. This exhibition, Chihuly at RISD, by the acclaimed artist will be complemented by an exhibition of works from other glass artists who were students during or after Chihuly’s time at RISD.

“This presentation of Dale Chihuly as our inaugural exhibition celebrates the new Museum’s spaces with the appropriate measure of flamboyance, mass, and artistic statement while also honoring a figure who is an intrinsic part of RISD’s history,” said Hope Alswang, Director of the RISD Museum.

The glass installations will fill the largest gallery (nearly 6,000 square feet) in the new Chace Center. This new gallery is nearly twice the size of the Museum’s current largest gallery.

Inauguration Festivities

The opening of the Chace Center will take place at 20 North Main Street on Saturday, Sept. 27. The Museum has planned a day long celebration—all free and open to the public—with performances, music, and programs in honor of the opening.

Related Articles: Profile of Dale Chihuly


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