This won’t be your father’s museum when Norton expansion completed

Have a West Palm Beach news tip or issue of concern? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at or 561-820-4703.

It’s not like adding a room to your house.

The Norton Museum of Art’s $60 million expansion requires acoustics experts, landscape architects, security experts, arborists and a Pritzker Award-winning architecture team.

The result, Norton Deputy Director James Brayton Hall says, will be a work of world-class design like none other in the city, with new indoor and garden galleries, an auditorium and community spaces that make the museum more a community gathering place than, as some people see a museum, a mausoleum that contains art.

“We have two prime directives in our museum: art and audience,” he said.

If ladies want to sit in the Great Hall, play canasta and never look at a painting, that’s great, Hall says. If office workers want a peaceful place to take a mid-day break and drink a cup of coffee while working on their laptops, all the better, he says.

“We want people to come in and interact with the museum completely and not just with the art,” he says.

Prep work is scheduled to start in mid-September, including a protective fence around the expansive 75-year-old banyan tree on South Dixie Highway that plays an integral role in Foster + Partners’ architectural design. Completion is anticipated by fall or winter of 2018.

Gone will be the Mediterranean colors and warehouse contours of the South Dixie frontage. “Sparkling white modernism” is the idea, Hall says.

The main entry, on the south side of the museum, will move to the west, the South Dixie side. A broad but thin overhang will extend over the front of the building, its brushed aluminum underside capturing light from a reflective pool below.

A cutout in the overhang will allow the banyan tree to branch out in front of and above the museum, its natural lines softening the building’s crisp angles.

Three arborists were consulted to make sure the structure wouldn’t compromise the tree’s survival and the design was adjusted accordingly. The cutout was enlarged, and the reflective pool was shortened to give the roots more space, for example.

Most parking for the museum will be across South Dixie. The parking lot just south of the museum will be converted into a 9,000-square-foot sculpture garden. A freestanding wall will be built on the east side of that garden where films and slideshows can be projected during special events.

Inside, in addition to adding 12,000 square feet of gallery space, the project will include a 210-seat auditorium, an education center and a dining pavilion with a garden terrace.

The auditorium, with its fine-tuned acoustics and multi-level seating, will be a key improvement for the museum, intimate enough to have an audience of 80 attend a lecture without the room seeming empty but large enough to host bigger events. Since new projection and audio visual equipment is being installed, programs with overflow crowds could be simulcast in the auditorium and other parts of the building.

Acoustic design is being applied throughout the building — to keep sound from children’s classrooms upstairs from spilling into the galleries, for example.

A lot of thought also was put into where to allow light to enter the building, Hall says.

The interior of the auditorium will be visible through corner windows to visitors entering the building. The Great Hall, with its 44-foot ceiling height will have a tall vertical window framing a view of the banyan tree. The dining area will open onto the sculpture garden.

The design divides the building into three sections, each with its own entry. That separation will allow events such as lectures, weddings, bar mitzvahs, neighborhood association meetings and galas to take place without the galleries having to be open, Hall says.

The museum gets about 100,000 visitors a year, including 16,000 children.

Admission, generally $12, will not change as a result of the project, Hall says. In fact, a gift has allowed the museum to offer free admission to Palm Beach County residents every Saturday for the next two years.

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