What’s in A Box: The Hood Museum’s Addition

The "contemporary" concept for the new addition to the Hood caused a stir among fans of the Green's traditional look.

The “contemporary” concept for the Hood’s new addition caused a stir among fans of the Green’s traditional look.

On Thursday, January 28, The Dartmouth Review sat down with Hood Director John Stomberg to discuss the planned addition to Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art. 

TDR: Can you describe the current design of the Hood and its architectural history?

John Stomberg (JS): The current Hood was designed and opened about thirty years ago. It was designed by Charles Moore, who ran an architectural firm called Centerbrook.  It’s postmodern in style and it’s one of a series of buildings he made around the same time—including the Williams College Museum of Art—that had similar effects of architecture. And by that I mean, sometimes you’ll run into an arch that isn’t really doing anything for the engineering of the building, but is an arch as an architectural element; so a freestanding arch. You’ll find bits and pieces of architecture throughout the building.

You’ll also find, as is typical of Charles Moore, that the layout requires thought as you go through. You can’t just walk in and understand the building from any one point. It’s the opposite of a renaissance structure. The goal of a renaissance structure was to somehow be self-evident and rational. A Charles Moore building is anything but evident, and irrational. You have changes in height of the floor levels, you have angles working into each other. You have geometries embedded into the building. The boardroom next door, for example, has three of the sides, which if completed would form an octagon. But only three sides. And the octagon is something that he’s borrowing from octagonally shaped buildings in the history of art.

TDR: Coming into your current position, were you excited to work with a space that was unique in that way? 

JS: This is my second Charles Moore building. I inhabited a Charles Moore building at Williams College. I’m excited to continue working with a Charles Moore building. They have a series of challenges to them. I think one of the goals of the new project is to address some of the problems that we’ve had to address for thirty years here.

TDR: Can you elaborate on those challenges and problems?

JS: The entrance is somewhat hidden, as you come in. There’s a ceremonial archway and then a long curve around, and the door is pretty much hidden. For the record, it was the same way at Williams [College], where the door is all the way around the back of the building. So you have to look for it. Moore was a brilliant architect. That’s a fact. My suspicion is that it foregrounded the presence of the architect. So any time you walk into a Moore building, you have to deal with him. You have to say, “Oh, somebody thought about this.” He’s not at all invisible, he’s very present in all of this.

So the new plan will give us a great front door; it’ll be very accessible. And that’s important because a College like Dartmouth, or a college in any small town, has a responsibility in their art museum to be welcoming, especially to the community. It’s one of the places where we’re most porous, and if we send the message architecturally that this is closed off, that this is somehow secretive, we are not going to be inviting to the community. The students will still come in, they have to. Their professors sent them here. But in terms of being inviting to the community, it’ll be great to have a new front door.

[Charles Moore’s] student is Billie Tsien. So the architect who is doing the renovation did her senior thesis with the architect that did the original building.

TDR: In 1953, President Eisenhower remarked that, “This is what a college should look like.” Can you talk about how the new design fits in or doesn’t fit in with Dartmouth’s campus? 

JS: The new design is very much of its own time, which I also think is important. Those grand buildings along the Green are very much of their own time. One of the decisions that the architects made is that it’ll be a building that actually stands out on its own. We’re next to Wilson, which I think is a beautiful building too, and Wilson will no longer be attached. Wilson will have its own sense of place, and this new building will be tucked back behind Wilson. It’s white brick, and that’s a nod to, while remaining contemporary, the white buildings on the Green. So it’s a very contemporary design, but it’s one that’s very respectful of its elders.

TDR: How did you arrive at that design? How was the architect picked? 

JS: This was before I came here, so it’s mostly hearsay, but they went through a process of searching architects and it came down to three firms. And this was the most interesting solution because it involved taking up the least real estate. Other plans involved going back toward the power plant and expanding out. And this new plan basically plops a building right into the open space [between the Hopkins Center and the Hood]. It’s a very creative [solution]. This was a tough nut to crack intellectually. The gate will go, and that will be the façade of the building.

TDR: The Hood Gate?

JS: The Hood Gate will go. That’ll be where the new façade goes. So, while losing very little of the new building, we are able to squish in a whole new building. And that was the brilliance of the plan.

TDR: What do you think about the removal of the iconic gate? 

JS: Unfortunately, I’d describe it as a necessary evil, given the pressure on the museum to grow. The Hood has a long legacy of teaching with art, it’s a leader in the field, and yet it probably has the worst art teaching facilities in the field. You can look at tiny museums now that are doing much better. There was a lot of pressure on the museum to grow, and unfortunately, that gate, while architecturally somewhat interesting, is not really helping matters much. Any time you make a change, it’s going to be tough, especially when you renovate a building.

TDR: Can you explain how the new building links in with existing structures?

JS: Let’s start with ground zero, the Charles Moore building, and move out from there. The building is designed so that when we’re all done, you won’t notice that you’re going from one place to another. It’ll have its own identity. By virtue of being that singular block, on the outside it’ll have its own identity with that white brick as opposed to the red brick. On the inside, it’ll be absolutely seamless. So on the inside of the building, you’ll walk from the Hop right into this building. It’s going to be seamless on the inside while maintaining its identity on the outside.

It’s being sandwiched between this major building, which is the Hop, and this major building, which is the current Hood. So it needs to have its own identity too. And I think that’s one of the things that you’re feeling. The blocky-ness of that design, the architecture of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien tends to be very under-spoken and a lot about texture and emotion. You walk into their spaces, some of the walls will be covered in felt. The floors will be in different materials. There will be wood floors, there will be stone floors, there will be tile floors.

One way of thinking about a building is that it’s a shaper of experience. You walk through, and how does it shape experience? The types of experience that Todd Williams and Billie Tsien shape are emotional. They fire on not just the rational side of my brain, but on the irrational side of my brain. I end up having feelings about being in these spaces that I think they are quite aware of instigating.

We’re adding a fourth building. You’ve got Wilson, the Hop, the current Hood. And then the new Hood. It’ll be a short history of architecture. You’ve got the Romanesque (Wilson), you’ve got modern (Hop), you’ve got postmodern (the Hood), and then you’ve got contemporary (the new Hood).

Postmodern is architecture about architecture. A lot of times you’ll see an element that’s a celebration of the art, celebration of the pillar, celebration of these bits of the building that come off. Not to mention, the great building that is the Visual Arts Center. So this becomes a little conglomeration of architecture right here.

TDR: What do you think some challenges of the new building will be?

JS: The new building is going to answer four major problems for us. The first problem is finding a front door. You’re going to be able to find the Hood. We’re going to have a big passageway—kind of a courtyard area—inside of which will be a public space for a poetry reading, a meeting, a gathering. All of this sort of activity can happen because it’s outside of the internal museum [which is armed with an alarm system that acts as a barrier to entry]. There’s a big concourse area. It’s going to be beautiful. You and your friends could have a concert there.

So we’re going to have a nice social space, an informal space. We’re going to have three classrooms, and that’s one of the big challenges we have now. We literally have so many professors who want to use the museum, sometimes we have to say no, we don’t have the time or space. So we’re going to have three classrooms inside the museum. Finally, there will be five new galleries – the museum has sixty five thousand objects – so if there is a challenge, it would be trying to determine what to do with the galleries and in order to meet the conflicting demands on the museum. There’s a whole coterie of people who want a full time gallery of Native American work. There’s a whole coterie of people who want European old masters and antiquities, so how are we going to decide what goes out?

TDR: So how are you going to decide? 

JS: We’re organizing a group of faculty and curators, and we’re starting to think it through. Some things are so important to the collection, such as the Assyrian reliefs, they should never really come off of display. They’re just too important. They tell a history. So you start there, with your must-haves and your really great works of art, and then you get creative, and you start thinking about what you can do. We can change it around on a regular basis, too, but there will always be works that aren’t on view, and that’s the toughest decision to make, because there are so many really wonderful things. Who wants to be the one to say to an art historian of Korean art, “Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have room for the work you study right now.” But it happens. And I’m not saying we’re not going to put up Korean art.

TDR: While learning how to appreciate contemporary art is a valuable skill that all Dartmouth students should learn, there is a concern that  contemporary art will push out some of the older and more traditional works in the collection.

JS: This is an excellent question. The Hood is not about to become a museum of contemporary art. One of the reasons why I was attracted to come work here, is that I am, at heart, a generalist, loving art from all periods. We have such a brilliant collection, and if anything, you’ll end up seeing a little more art from the past than is currently on view. I think that to separate past art from present art is to miss a great story about legacy. If you talk to any really serious contemporary artist, they’re always hanging out in museums looking at the past.

I’m an art historian, and that’s what separates the Hood as a museum from a contemporary art space. We are not chasing after the next big thing. We do have a deep and strong engagement with living artists: Eric Aho is a living artist. I think everybody in Smooth Show is a living artist. So yes, we will continue to have that, but count on expanded American presence. It might be on a five year cycle, so students might miss it, and that’s one of the problems.

A good thing to keep in mind is that we have these three classrooms, and any student at Dartmouth can request to see something, make an appointment, and have it brought out to study. That’s one of the great things. This collection is yours. It belongs to the students and faculty of Dartmouth.

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  • Larry Goss

    Tsien and Williams dis not learn anything when their Folk Art building was demolished in order to make room for an addition. Their design for the Hood destroys the “gestalt” of Moore’s design. It is sad that they did not take the time to remove themselves from ego centric view and really understand the “life” of the existing design.

  • piper60

    Dreadful architecture isan indispensible component of “modern education” Failure to bend over and “takeit” (and pay for it) is a re-educatable offense!