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Aug 19, 2009 12:33 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Parrish Art Museum unveils plans for scaled-down Water Mill facility

Aug 19, 2009 12:33 PM

Hamstrung by financial hardships and a bleak outlook for fund-raising, the Parrish Art Museum has scrapped its ambitious and much ballyhooed plans for a sprawling new museum complex on land it owns in Water Mill.

The museum has instead introduced an entirely new development plan, slightly smaller and considerably less expensive than the original—one that museum officials said this week could open by 2012.

The new plan, which was presented to the Southampton Town Planning Board for review last week, will cost between $20 million and $25 million to construct, according to Parrish Director Terrie Sultan. That’s a fraction of the approximately $60 million projected cost for the first phase of the original development plan.

The lower cost will mean the museum can effectively begin construction as soon as the plan navigates the town approval process—a consideration that ultimately outweighed the museum board’s desire for a dream home.

“Our need for a new facility basically outstripped our ability to wait,” Ms. Sultan said. “With the economic reality what it is, it was clear it was going to take a lot longer. This community needs a new museum.”

Ms. Sultan, who took over as the Parrish’s director after the original plan had been approved by the town, said that the museum already has in its coffers 80 percent of the money it will need to complete the redesigned project. She said that the museum’s board had resolved to raise 80 percent of the funds for the original project privately before starting with a public capital campaign.

In March, Ms. Sultan acknowledged that the original expansion plans were effectively shelved because of anemic fund-raising forecasts following the slowdown of the U.S. economy a year ago. She said the museum expected fund-raising for the general operations of the museum to be off by as much as 30 percent in 2009, and scaled back programming for the year and turned its focus to emphasizing the works in its 2,500-piece permanent collection rather than exhibits of borrowed works.

In April, Ms. Sultan said this week, the museum’s board of trustees agreed that they should go back to the project’s architects, Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, and ask them to formulate a new, less expensive design that could be undertaken utilizing little more than the funds the museum already had in hand.

Ms. Sultan said the majority of the cost savings from the new design come from simplifying the structure and using less expensive construction materials.

Rather than the cluster of several small, interconnected buildings that made up the centerpiece of the original design, totaling some 44,000 square feet, the new plans call for a single 36,000-square-foot building that harkens to the long, low-slung barns common on local potato farms. The building will be more than 600 feet long but less than 100 feet wide.

Instead of intricately detailed sand-cast concrete, the new building’s exterior will be cast in more simple concrete and will have a corrugated metal roof. The cluster design called for nearly 60 exterior walls—an expensive construction consideration. The new one has just four.

The main interior facilities in the original design—bigger galleries, climate-controlled secure storage, staff offices, a cafe and a gift shop—remain in the new plans.

“In terms of programmatic space, we’re not losing anything,” Ms. Sultan said. “Really, what is changing is the layout. But the spaces are going to be more flexible because there will be very few fixed internal walls.”

The new design will be smaller than phase one of the original design—a conceptualized second phase would have added another 25,000 square feet to that plan, and $20 million to the cost—but will still be more than double the gallery space the museum has in its current building in Southampton Village.

“It will be modest, but, in my humble opinion, perhaps more appropriate for a beginning,” Museum Board President Alvin Chereskin said. “You talk about modest and small—look at the reality we’ve been living with. Anything we get is going to be a step forward.”

Mr. Chereskin said there will still be room on the 14-acre property the museum purchased in 2005 for a second-phase expansion down the road, if and when funding permits. Neither he nor Ms. Sultan would say if Herzog & de Meuron had already sketched a conceived second-phase layout.

The original plan had been celebrated by some in architectural circles for its conceptual re-creations of the East End studios of the artists Willem de Kooning, Fairfield Porter, William Merrit Chase and Roy Lichtenstein. The design sought to impart the legendary hues of natural light that those famed artists and others have said are what drew them to the East End, into a modern gallery.

“It was a plan that made looking at art extremely interesting in the sense that it put this area into a context on that site,” said Anne Surchin, an architect who writes an architecture column for The Press. “The idea that they would do separate buildings that were modeled on historic studios and the look of this medieval village. It created a sense of community with these studios as little epicenters.”

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