A gallery of the new East Building. Image courtesy of the Saint Louis Art Museum. Photo by Wesley Law.

ST. LOUIS - Museum expansions are always in season, and summer is no exception. The St. Louis Museum of Art has just opened its very own expansion, designed by the British architect Sir David Chipperfield, which is increasing the museum’s gallery space by 30 percent. Usually that’s the magic number—if you’re not upping the exhibition area by a third or so, it’s too expensive and time consuming to hire a big name architect and raise the necessary funds.

Chipperfield has some experience in the great Midwest, which happens to be my own home region. He designed the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, completed in 2005.

For the St. Louis project, he had to figure out how to add to the 1904 Beaux-Arts beauty of the existing building by the famed Cass Gilbert. The solution, known as the East Building, is essentially an L-shaped building that wraps around one of Gilbert’s corners, fitting in elegantly onto the south and east sides like a puzzle piece.

It’s providing lots more space for the museum to show its permanent collection, in particular of German works from its amazing holdings of the work of Max Beckmann (one of my favorite artists) all the way to later luminaries like Anselm Kiefer.

The building also shows off a couple of important trends in serious architecture. First, there’s a local element to the materials. Just like in the “locavore” movement in dining, architects want to be seen using local flavor, as it were. In this case, the polished concrete façade incorporates some Missouri stone.


The Cass Gilbert-designed Main Building with the new East Building in the foreground. Image courtesy of the Saint Louis Art Museum and Architectural Wall Systems. Photo by Jacob Sharp.


The other big trend is serious environmental consciousness: The Chipperfield addition is LEED Gold certified, the highest standard available and quite a lot of work to achieve.

I was just on a hard-hat tour of another museum that’s under construction that will also get the LEED Gold rating—Renzo’s Piano’s new Whitney Museum of American Art, at the south end of the High Line in New York’s West Village. I’ll provide a sneak preview on that project one day soon in this space.