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Metropolitan Museum to Undertake Major Redesign and Reconstruction of Plaza and Fountains

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it would undertake a comprehensive, multi-year effort to redesign and rebuild the four-block-long outdoor plaza that fronts its landmark Fifth Avenue façade. The project will feature as one of its centerpiece elements the design and installation of all-new fountains outside the museum building. Following formal approval of the project at a meeting of its Board of Trustees today, the Metropolitan further announced that it has named OLIN, the award-winning landscape architecture and urban design firm with studios in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, to lead this effort.

“We are proud to launch this monumental project, and delighted to collaborate with such a distinguished and creative design team as OLIN,” said Thomas P. Campbell, the Museum’s Director. “The Met’s Beaux-Arts façade is one of the great architectural treasures in America, and this initiative represents an important opportunity to create a truly dynamic space around this remarkable building. The steps of the Met have long been a beloved part of our visitors’ experience here, and we look forward extending the vitality of that iconic area to the surrounding plaza. Indeed, this exciting new outdoor environment will provide the perfect complement to the majestic spaces and exceptional collections found within the building.”

The initial phase of design work for the plaza project has been funded by a generous grant by David H. Koch.

The selection of OLIN comes after a search process that involved a review of more than 30 leading landscape and building architects from around the world. The international search was conducted by a special committee of the Museum’s Board of Trustees chaired by Daniel Brodsky, who is also Vice Chairman of the Trustee Buildings Committee. The other Trustees who serve on the committee are: Russell L. Carson, David H. Koch, Cynthia Hazen Polsky, Henry B. Schacht, Ann G. Tenenbaum, and Shelby White, together with Peter Lehrer, an advisory member of the committee. Serving ex officio are: James R. Houghton, Chairman of the Board of Trustees; Thomas P. Campbell, Director; and Emily K. Rafferty, Museum President, along with various members of the Museum’s curatorial and administrative staff.

OLIN will lead a comprehensive project to re-conceive the entire plaza space, including its fountains and accompanying plantings, all of which were installed in their present form four decades ago in 1970. The uses of the plaza have changed over the years—vehicles, for example, are no longer allowed to drive around the fountains—suggesting the need for a new design program. The existing fountains, long dormant, were recently rehabilitated and currently function, but the repairs did not address long-term issues and are only temporary.

The new project also calls for improving access to the Museum’s two subsidiary, street-level public entrances: the Uris Center entrance at Fifth Avenue and 81st Street for school groups and visitors with disabilities, and the 83rd Street entrance used primarily for access to the Met’s concerts and lectures programs at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. The project will not affect the Museum’s beloved front steps, one of New York City’s favorite gathering places, which were only recently disassembled and reinstalled to rehabilitate the granite paving and to install ice-melting technology beneath.

OLIN, internationally recognized for design excellence in landscape architecture, urban design, and planning, has been responsible for such projects as the redesign of Bryant Park, the New York Public Library terrace, Columbus Circle, Battery Park City, and the newly opened Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Much honored, the firm’s awards include a 2008 Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award and numerous citations from such professional organizations as the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Institute of Architects, and the Urban Leadership Institute. Dennis McGlade, Partner and President of OLIN, will be the lead designer for the plaza. His experience with museums and cultural landscapes includes the Frank and Ray Stark Sculpture Garden and the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago.

The project will require considerable advance planning, design work, and formal approvals from community and citywide agencies. At this early stage in the design process, the Museum has not yet developed a construction schedule but, pending all approvals, hopes that construction will take around two years and be completed by 2015.

“Once we have developed a design proposal, we look forward to presenting it to forums and decision-makers at all levels of government, starting with our neighbors and our community board,” said Emily Rafferty, who will lead the outreach effort for the project. “We want, hope, and expect to rally our neighborhood and our city around this effort to enhance and improve one of the most significant public spaces in New York.” Ms. Rafferty noted that the public engagement and approvals process will include Community Planning Board 8 and the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, Department of Parks and Recreation, Landmarks Preservation Commission, and Public Design Commission.

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