Bucksbaum Center for the Arts and the Faulconer Gallery
The Bucksbaum Center for the Arts (BCA) was built and dedicated in September 1999 as an effort by Grinnell College to consolidate the arts under one roof. The original buildings that housed the fine arts were a small international-style rectangular building, designed by Walter Netsch of the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, which still remains at the core of the BCA, and the adjacent Roberts Theatre, also designed by Netsch. Both buildings were built in 1961 and after a few decades was not able to accommodate the College’s increasingly popular art, music, and theatre departments. Despite the placement of the school’s Print and Drawing Study Room in the basement of Burling Library there was a need for additional space to house a growing art collection, and additional performance, rehearsal, and studio space for music, art and theatre classes and performing groups. The result was a campaign initiated by Pamela Ferguson, former President of the College, and Carolyn Bucksbaum ’51, trustee of the college and passionate patron of the arts. This campaign aimed to build an addition off of the existing fine arts building where the old skating lawn was located (between Roberts Theatre and Burling). To design the new fine arts center, the college selected world-renowned architecture firm Cesar Pelli and Associates. Pelli’s vision for the arts center utilizes the unique curved plot of land along 6th Avenue to create an impressive and attractive location to express the presence of the fine arts to the campus and the community. The resulting Bucksbaum Center for the Arts is indeed an attractive structure whose radial form maximizes the area for the Center and accommodates each branch of the arts in its fragmented slices. These slices make up spaces of diverse sizes that from the outside look like a series of large stepping blocks and are make up smaller rehearsal rooms up to the large Sebring-Lewis Hall. The other curved section of the building visible from 6th Avenue holds three stories of large art studio rooms for ceramics, painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpting classes. The Department of Theatre and Dance received a brand new black box theatre (Flanagan Studio Theatre) and scene shop. Pelli fully incorporated and renovated the earlier buildings. The final building’s impressive form is accentuated by the variety and quality of construction materials (patterned golden brick masonry, white painted steel, and variegated strand board panels) which are emblematic of Cesar Pelli’s architecture.
The Faulconer Gallery
Nestled within the heart of this new Bucksbaum Center for the Arts is the Faulconer Gallery, designed to present notable international, national, and regional temporary exhibitions. For this reason Pelli designed a flexible gallery space that could accommodate art media of all kinds. Additionally, moveable wall panels increase the flexibility, allowing the space to be divided up and arranged in an infinite number of combinations for one or more exhibitions. In this way the gallery can serve as a learning tool for course work and at the same time offer diverse and new opportunities to view and experience art for students and the general public.
In designing the gallery the College aimed to create a space that would be an inspiring aesthetic experience. Pelli’s treatment of this 7,400 square foot space does not disappoint. The floor is made of endgrain plywood from which rise several concrete
columns. This large space is illuminated by a series of indirect skylights in the clerestory and other natural lighting from large glazed windows. The far wall of the gallery curves to embrace the circular form of the building. This long curved surface presents a challenge to hang art, yet its curve is gentle and its size is perfect for installing large works. In the end the gallery can accommodate any type of art, from easel paintings to installation art, and from prints and drawings to video.
Cesar Pelli is Argentine-born and earned his Diploma in Architecture from the University of Tucumán, San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina. A world renowned architect, he is known best for his Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, at one time the world’s tallest buildings, the World Finance Center in New York, and the International Finance Center in Hong Kong. However, he actively designs a variety of architectural projects; from fitness centers to skyscraper office buildings.
In 1977 he became the Dean of the Yale University School of Architecture and founded his firm Cesar Pelli & Associates in New Haven, Connecticut. His firm later changed its name to Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects after the addition of principal architect Fred Clarke. After resigning as Dean in 1984, Pelli has continued teaching and lecturing, as well as writing several books on his designs and architectural theories. His work avoids creating a structure for solely aesthetic purposes. He believes “works of architecture never exist by themselves; they are always part of a larger whole.” He encourages his work to interact with people and places importance on the personal experience over the aesthetic appeal. However, his firm handle on material choice is apparent in all of his buildings. Pelli’s work at Grinnell includes the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts (1999), the Joe Rosenfeld ’25 Center (2006) at the heart of campus, and the Athletic and Fitness Center (phase I, 2005 and Phase II, 2010), created in conjunction with Sasaki Associates on the north end of campus.
Will Schwaller ’09