Locally-based firm Sparano + Mooney took inspiration from the Aspen tree when they came up with their beautiful and thoughtful proposal for the Kimball Art Center in Park City, UT. Where Brooks + Scarpa and BIG's designs are more about show and creating a visual landmark, Sparano + Mooney chose a more understated route to create a timeless and elegant space. The Aspen (whose root system has created the largest living organism in the world) is the basis for the design, which evokes the history of the area and the potential reach of the art center in the community and beyond. Characterized by a wall of fritted glass featuring aspen trunks and covered in a photovoltaic skin, the new addition to the center would be filled with light and nature.
In this third installment of the Kimball Art Center Transformation proposals, we explore the design by the only local firm of the 5 design teams who presented. Sparano + Mooney, who have worked both locally and internationally, culled their inspiration from the Aspen tree, which is found throughout Utah and is a favorite for its beautiful fall colors. The Aspen grows by extending its root system to shoot up new trees, which is similar to how the Kimball Art Center extends its influence and connects with the surrounding art community. Wood sourced from beetle-kill deforestation in the local area will be used as both decoration as well as structural members to give a sense of being in the forest and surrounded by nature. The design also calls to mind western vernacular log cabins and shows how materials can be transformed to create a wholly unique spatial experience.
The lower level of the center will be devoted to education through classrooms, art studios and workshop space available to members of the community, local and visiting artists. The historic facility will be transformed into office and administration spaces for the staff of the Kimball along with a full catering kitchen. Meanwhile, the new facility will feature the gallery and exhibition spaces. The ground floor serves as the living room of the area and welcomes visitors in to enjoy the art and the activities with a cafe and retail space. The new upper level is the main gallery space and enjoys access to the rooftop deck and the rooftop terrace along with views of town.
Sustainable design is also at the root of Sparano + Mooney’s proposed facility and they explore a number of ways to increase the efficiency of the existing facility as well as to ensure the addition is making a positive impact in town. The historic building is in need of basic upgrades in order to meet with new codes, but it also needs significant envelope upgrades in the way of sealing, insulation and structural support. High efficiency mechanical systems reduce energy use, while providing ideal museum conditions. New energy efficient lighting will be designed in conjunction with daylighting studies to provide optimum conditions for both the art work in the galleries as well as the people who visit the space.
Sustainably-harvested beetle-kill pine will be used extensively throughout to infuse the space with natural materials and evoke nature. The glass facade on the new addition will feature a printed fritting pattern on the interior to resemble aspen trees. This fritting works to filter daylight, control solar heat gain and protect the artwork. The exterior of the glass is to be outfitted with a electricity-generating photovoltaic skin. This frees up the rooftop deck and terrace for outdoor event space. Flexibility in space also allows the Kimball Art Center to make the most out of their facilities and be able to hold multiple events at the same time without having to over build.
Sparano + Mooney may not be as well known as a few of the other firms, but their work speaks for itself in terms of quality, sustainable design and beauty. Their proposal is by far the most beautiful of the five and one that will likely create a strong emotional response in visitors*. The use of local materials and reference to our heritage and surrounding environment serves as both a reminder for those who live here, and also a form of education for visitors. This proposal is strongly rooted in sustainable design, first shoring up the existing facilities, then ensuring a tight and high performance envelope and then making use of solar passive design and daylighting. The lower hanging fruit is addressed first before adding on more sophisticated systems like the mechanical, lighting, and photovoltaic systems.
Unlike BIG and Brooks + Scarpa’s designs, Sparano + Mooney’s does not go up, but addresses the level of the surrounding buildings. This could limit the center in terms of available space and potential for growth, or the programmatic layout may be efficient enough to compensate for not going higher. The two rooftop decks seem amply sized, but a larger public plaza at the entrance would be more desirable especially for summertime activities and events. Nature does is certainly woven in the throughout the interior and then visible through the exterior, but it’s all dead. Nature in a living form, either through a courtyard, planted trees or some other living installation could send this design over the top. Some may say that this proposal isn’t big enough (no pun intended) and we should take this as an opportunity to do something extraordinary. This design is wonderful though – it’s just taken the more subtle and elegant approach.
Images ©Sparano + Mooney courtesy of the Kimball Art Center and ©Bridgette Meinhold
* Bridgette Meinhold calls Park City, UT home and is intimately involved in the activities of the Kimball Art Center. She has watched the design competition closely since it first began and will continue to provide in-depth, first hand info on the project as it evolves.