The building design process for the Gibbes’ renovation is getting much busier these days. We are all juggling many aspects of the project at the same time but everyone is very excited about our results. Design ideas for both the Museum Store and new Café are moving into more finalized proposals. The Store will have illuminated displays in each of the Meeting Street windows and the new cabinetry and lighting will really highlight the beautiful merchandise. I have been reviewing current trends in museum gift shops all over the east coast, and I feel that we will have something very special in Charleston. The Café plan is becoming more defined—with input on the prep and service areas being provided by one of the major restaurant equipment companies in the area. The look of the Café is also changing. I want to stay true to impressive Beaux-Arts architecture of the original building but create a space that will encourage visitors to relax and enjoy the community environment of the café. I have been inspired by the numerous cafés in many of the Washington, DC museums. Our plans include a large community table at the center of the Café surrounded by a series of three or four banquettes nestled into the reopened Meeting Street windows. The Café and Museum Store will be open to visitors without paying admission, which is a key aspect of the newly renovated first floor open corridor spaces.
The first floor art classrooms are well into the planning stages—ready for the architects to insert into the final design document. We’ve invited a few artist friends of the museum to help conceptualize the professional artist studios in an attempt to guarantee that we get it right the first time. The curators and I are refining the plans for the second floor galleries to tell a visual narrative from the early history of southern art through to current developments and trends in contemporary art. And we are finally developing elevation drawings that will be used to create a 3-D model of the second floor galleries with all of the artworks in place. This next step will bring the future galleries to life so that we can share more concretely how the museum displays will be completely transformed.
Back in the first floor main corridor, beautiful reproduction pendant light fixtures will be installed down the long hallway. From old photographs in the museum archive, we know these new pendant fixtures are a similar design to the originals that hung in the corridor, and they will relate to the restored originals in the second floor colonnade. Museum visitors will be able to walk from the Museum Store and Café at the front of the building, past the classrooms and studio spaces, and into the newly renovated reception gallery and lecture hall at the garden end of the building. Flexible lighting options in the rooms at the rear of the building will increase their multipurpose functionality and we hope will create an appealing event space leading to the glass-covered back porch and the new sculpture garden.
A major step in the process is the development of a completely new lighting system for all of the galleries and public spaces, which is being designed by Anita Jorgensen from New York. The LED lighting she has specified for most public areas of the building will enhance the artworks and transform the space—showing the original intent of the artists and architects. The Rotunda gallery and Tiffany Dome will be lit from above and below with LED and fluorescent lighting. I expect the illumination techniques we have planned for the stained-glass dome will result in the most perfect likeness to its original installation in 1905. Imagine the Rotunda’s original tessera tile floor, which relates to the ceiling’s Beaux-Arts architectural details and mimics the design of the dome itself, once it is restored and beautifully lit!
As I have been doing during each visit, Angela and I spoke with museum friends and supporters about the plans for the future for the Gibbes. With each event, we have received great responses and suggestions. I am impressed with our supporters ideas and their passionate concerns about the new Gibbes. As these concepts continue to develop, I look forward to sharing them with you on this blog. I honestly can’t wait until we start the restorations and reconstructions!
—Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger