The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) is among the largest contemporary art museum in the United States and a pioneering adaptive reuse project. Housed in a vast 17-acre industrial complex built in the late 1800s for the Arnold Print Works company, the museum was completed in three phases, initially opening to international acclaim in 1999 with 125,000 square feet. Today, the museum comprises 280,000 square feet of galleries, performing arts venues, video/multimedia spaces, and commercial rental units. A unique series of quasi-independent “museums within the museum” showcasing the work of globally-renowned artists were added in the project’s final phase, each delivering a singular character and point of view.
Initial transformation of the site’s former factories followed the master plan developed by Bruner/Cott, beginning with extensive demolition and hazardous materials abatement to reclaim the former brownfield site. Adapting the program to the buildings to preserve their texture and scale, the existing structures generated spaces that challenged conventional notions of what a museum should look like, do, and be, serving as a catalyst for widespread rethinking of this building type.
The massiveness of both the buildings and the complex, with its interlocking courtyards, bridges, and walkways, offered the opportunity to experiment with open spaces, structural elements, and connections. The result is a transparency that encourages experimentation and collaboration within the framework of a place known for centuries as a center for innovation.
Still a young museum, MASS MoCA has no permanent collection; its changing exhibits and programs continue to attract more than 185,000 visitors per year. With a footprint that encompasses a third of the North Adams business district, the museum is central to the economic revival of the city, the vitality of the Berkshires region at large, and a vibrant symbol of how innovative design thinking can transform the cultural experience.
“MASS MoCA is the most successful conversion of an industrial building conceived for an entirely different function. [….] What I like best about MASS MoCA is the subtlety of the balance between the old industrial architecture and its new role as a place for the display of contemporary art.”
–Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer-Prize winning architecture critic
“I have seen the future, and it is MASS MoCA.” –Lee Rosenbaum, Wall Street Journal
2000 American Institute of Architects – National Honor Award for Design
2000 Historic Massachusetts – Eliot Award for Historic Preservation
2000 Massachusetts Historical Commission – Preservation Award
2000 National Trust for Historic – Preservation Honor Award
1999 Boston Society of Architects – Honor Award for Design Excellence in Adaptive Reuse
*Images courtesy Mass MoCA, credit Douglas Mason