It’s one thing when environmental art brings you out into the field, up into the trees, and reaches beyond our usual expectations, but The Omi International Art Center in Columbia County, NY does all of this and then some with its new LEED-certifiedvisitors center and gallery space. The Charles B. Benenson Visitors Center & Gallery opened its doors this past June and was celebrated as a perfect marriage between green building and the environmental sculpture projects that the site is world-renowned for. Designed by Hudson Valley based FT:Architecture, the new visitor building is consistent with the art center’s objective of melding art, architecture, and a landscaped environment that fosters creative residencies and installation projects for some of the world’s most provocative sculptors and enviro-artists.

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FT:Architecture is a multi-disciplinary architectural design firm with an award-winning roster of projects that innovative-ly bridge architecture and the visual arts. The founding partners, Kathleen Triem and Peter Franck, welcomed the unique opportunity to create the first LEED-certifiedstructure of its kind in Columbia County, approximately a two-and-a-half-hour drive from NYC. The 4,200 square foot Benenson Center boasts features such as natural textures with large expanses of curtail wall glass; a planted green roof; a 9.84 kw solar power array; a daylight harvesting system where sensors monitor the level of ambient light to maintain a constant illumination level with minimum electricity; stone bands which serve as a heat sink to reduce direct solar gain; and motion detectors that regulate light usage.

Triem and Franck also designed and originally curated Omi’s The Fields Sculpture Park, which currently features more than 75 contemporary outdoor sculpture installations on 50 acres of surrounding landscape.

Omi International Art Center is an idyllic locale, and in addition to its dynamic residency program, it also has been the site for a recent exhibition called ‘Into The Trees’, curated by Lilly Wei and ecoartspace founder Amy Lipton. Other artists featured include Polly Apfelbaum, Sanford Biggers, caraballo–farman, Stephen Dean, Katie Holten, Jason Middlebrook, Alan Michelson, Cordy Ryman, Shinique Smith, Chrysanne Stathacos and Saya Woolfa, as well as Nina Katchadourian’s Twitchers and Cheaters (this exhibition has been taken down for the winter, but will be up again in the spring). ‘Into The Trees’ is on view for only one more week, through next Sunday, November 30th.

It’s great to see the dissolution of formal boundaries at multi-disciplinary art centers like Omi. A sign, perhaps, that architecture and art are moving into new fields that challenge our assumptions about what the art-viewing experience should be.

+ Omi International Art Center

+ FT:Architecture

(Architecture and interior photos courtesy of FT: Architecture website)

Top image: Alan Michelson’s The Ratio of Art to Nature, 2008, courtesy of Amy Lipton