Located on a prominent northwest corner of Roanoke’s downtown, the new Art Museum of Western Virginia creates a physical and iconographic gateway into the city. As the city’s most contemporary structure, it represents Roanoke’s metaphorical gateway to the future for a city transforming its industrial and manufacturing based economy to one driven by technology information and services. The building’s forms and materials interpret the renowned beauty and drama of the surrounding Shenandoah Valley landscape framed by the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains.
Stratified over three levels, the building program occupies 81,000 square feet. Primary public spaces are located on the ground level, including the museum lobby, large screen theater, café, gift shop, auditorium and education spaces, along with additional support areas associated with the loading dock and art receiving activities. All permanent collection galleries, as well as the temporary exhibit galleries and art storage, are located on the second level. The third and uppermost floor holds the boardroom, director’s suite and all staff offices.
Light defines the primary circulation, fracturing the building at the second floor galleries to emerge into dynamic glass volumes at each end. Representing the hub for the entire facility, the volume of the lobby atrium connects the two floors and rises to a peak of 75 feet. The top floor splits again, causing the roofs to part for clerestory light as it, along with the events terrace, projects outward and over the street below.
The lobby atrium’s translucent, layered polycarbonate roof fills the space with softly diffused light. Undulating roofs and curving walls for other building areas are clad in stainless steel with a specular finish that allows the building coloration to reflect the rich variety of color in the sky and from the seasonally dramatic landscape. The many angular exterior walls, which rise to support the stainless steel roof, are surfaced in shingled cement fiber panels, while interior walls at public spaces feature a local gray dolomite limestone application. These forms and textures emphasize the striations, clefts and eroded rock surfaces found in the region’s famous caverns, cliffs and river gorges.
The Museum’s collection focuses on 18th and 19th Century American Art, Contemporary Art, Southern Decorative Art, Prints and Photographs and Non-Western Art. Through a cooperative program with the neighboring Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), the facility will house advanced state-of-the-art technology for distance learning to serve the entire region of western Virginia. In addition, the museum will feature fiber optic cable links with Network Virginia in order to enhance secondary education access to the arts. The museum will also link with Virginia Tech to provide artistic endeavors via the University’s Computer Automated Virtual Environment (CAVE).
Sustainable design components such as daylighting, passive solar, thermal conserving envelope, and computerized building management systems are incorporated into the building design. The south-facing glass façade of the lobby atrium contains light-shelves for control of sunlight and solar heat gain. Along with the two major atria, clerestories at the upper office level provide generous daylighting throughout the building.