TowerPinkter leads the Expansion and Renovation at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

The Grand Rapids Public Museum is a historic, community resource providing science, history, cultural exhibitions, and events to the City of Grand Rapids and its many visitors. Between 2008 and 2019, museum visitors increased each year from 68,000 to nearly 260,000. To accommodate the growing number of guests and to improve customer experience and flow, TowerPinkster was selected to lead the expansion and renovation of the museum. The updated facility will increase the Museum’s offerings and improve accessibility and inclusivity for all.

Space designed for inclusion.

Both the Museum and the design team recognized that the need for inclusion was equally, if not more, important than the architecture. Central to planning was creating a space that was inclusive and accommodating for the community and the scholars who attend the Grand Rapids Public Museum High School.

To kick off the project and begin the conceptual phase, TowerPinkster developed a comfortable platform for discussion and discovery using interactive visioning sessions. These sessions drew input from community partners, museum staff, and other stakeholders by dividing the users into four groups representing the Museums’ four main attributes: accessibility, education, connectivity, and the city of Grand Rapids. The stakeholders within each group were then invited to select words and images that they felt aligned with the attribute they were assigned. After the session concluded, the pictures and comments were then gathered and assembled by the TowerPinkster team and displayed to create a visual representation of the needs, challenges, and opportunities for the Museum’s expansion. This visual depiction, developed by museum stakeholders and Grand Rapids community members, became the scope for the Museum’s expansion. As the design of the expansion has progressed, the scope of the project has grown to include several exciting and innovative features.

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A transformation upon arrival.

To stimulate the museum’s presence, each entrance will become a connective experience for visitors, creating access on all four sides of the building.

The iconic Spillman Carousel will be separated from the museum, making the east entrance accessible from the riverfront. The ceiling connecting the east entrance of the museum to the carousel will use a metallic, reflective element that will mirror its surroundings. In addition, lighting features will be used to illuminate the pathways at night in a way that will not affect the migratory pattern of birds.

The west entry, which currently feels like the back of the building, will display a media-mesh wall that will portray people and places from all over the world as a welcoming gesture to global culture. It will also become the school drop-off, alleviating existing congestion, and overlap between school groups and the general public.

Design for water.

During a workshop with the project team, water responsibility emerged as a core value for the project alongside energy efficiency and education. From these values grew specific goals to design with water in mind; to recognize the importance of water in all places, to use sustainable resources, and implement lasting design solutions that tell a story and spark curiosity.

The project achieves these goals using low-flow plumbing fixtures and native landscaping. In order to alleviate domestic water loads from the city, rainwater will be captured on the roof of the north end of the building to provide irrigation. In addition, a 2,700 SF green roof and permeable ground cover will reduce water runoff.

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Growth for future learning and experience.

The Museum expansion includes a new South Tower which will increase space by 25,000 SF and provide more opportunities for future exhibitions, events, and education. The space will include a ground-floor cafe that will transition into a community kitchen and provide flexible spaces for indoor and outdoor classrooms and collaboration opportunities with local businesses and universities that will offer students attending the Museum school workforce development, job training, and laboratory learning. The community will benefit from culinary classes hosted in the incubator kitchen.

The new South Tower will include a rooftop event space offering panoramic views of the skyline and river. The rooftop will feature a wood ceiling that, when lifted, will fill the interior of the South Tower with sunlight. Additionally, an egress stair tower will use a cantilevered dial and brick patterning to follow the sun’s path, communicating the seasons. The South facade will utilize its orientation to harness solar energy using photovoltaic solar panels.

As the project progresses, the platform of discussion continues. From the original intent of the expansion, the scope has grown to include an event space that is flexible for a variety of event and exhibition types, a family portico that aligns the museum with the surrounding urban grid and better integrates with the city, a new portal connecting the carousel to the museum that will feature audio of stories by Michigan’s indigenous people and an observatory that will provide people with an elevated view of the river.

Each piece of the design is representative of the four main attributes the Museum stakeholders generated at the beginning of the project: accessibility to the museum through entrance points on all four sides, connectivity to the city and river, education opportunities for the students and surrounding community, and the character of the city of Grand Rapids. Through listening and engaging with the community and museum stakeholders, the team has developed a design that encompasses these goals and has created space for further and continuous discussion and ideation.

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