The Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia is a 210,000-square-foot building, and home to over 30,000 works in a collection that includes pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Pollock; Old World Masters like Callari and Mabuse; a photography collection that spans from the Civil War photography of Alexander Gardner to the images of Robert Mapplethorpe; to one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of glass (a collection of over 10,000 objects from the last 3,000 years).
The Chrysler Museum, while cited as one of Norfolk’s most beautiful buildings, had outgrown its gallery space, the preservation and curator spaces were poorly located, and a poorly located HVAC plant was nearing the end of its useful life. In addition, access was poor for both the public and those with disabilities. A $24 million project was commissioned to address these needs, add almost 10,000 square feet of new gallery space, and create a new café.
The largest initial challenge is the integrity of the building and the collection that it houses. While much of the public collection will be closed during the renovation, over 90 employees will still be doing the work of the museum, and the valuable collection will be carefully protected. William Hennessey, Museum Director, said, “We have a 210,000-square-foot building with over 30,000 irreplaceable works of art. There is no single piece in the collection that hasn’t been moved or touched during this process.”
Special care is being taken during the renovation and replacement of the HVAC system, as climate control is essential to the protection of the collection. “I’m in awe at how KBS has kept all of these balls in the air spinning,” said Hennessey. Not only is HVAC crucial to the preservation of the collection, systems also have to provide for the comfort of those museum staffers still working in the building. While the Museum Library, normally opened to the public, will be closed, it will still remain open for research. An ill-placed elevator shaft is also being relocated to provide better access to all floors of the facility.
With all of the work going on inside the building, careful work is progressing outside to apply limestone cladding to the new additions, precisely mimicking the iconic Italianate façade of the original structure. Members of the KBS team recently travelled to Evans Limestone in Bedford, Indiana to check on the fabrication. It’s a perfect match for the existing limestone currently on the building. Over 800 pieces are being precisely milled, with each being numbered. Upon delivery to Norfolk, they’ll all fit together like an immense jigsaw puzzle.
All of this is happening as the staff of the Chrysler Museum is continuing their work. Hennessey added, “KBS has been a great partner, helping us to design security procedures, temporary climate controls and protective coverings and casings so that we can operate and preserve our collection.”