Site preparation at the old Fogg began in January. If you've walked behind the Fogg lately, along Prescott Street, you can see what appears to be a shell of the former building, blue sky clearly visible through the windows on the top of the three-story structure. Eventually, in 2013, a new, Piano-designed structure will hold the collections of the Fogg, the Busch Reisinger (with its emphasis on Central and Northern European art, especially German-speaking countries), and the Sackler (dedicated to ancient Islamic, Asian, and later Indian Art).
The purpose of the move is to unify the collections, to make all of the art more accessible, and to integrate art more broadly into the Harvard curriculum. "We wanted to create a state-of-the-art facility that would be the single location for all three of our museums," Harvard Art Museums director of communications Daron Manoogian told me. "With the Sackler being across the street in our previous configuration, it was getting about one-fifth of the visitation of the Fogg and the Busch-Reisinger, and that's not acceptable to us." (The refusal by the city of Cambridge to grant a permit for a pedestrian footbridge from the Fogg across the street to the Sackler didn't help.)
In the new Harvard University Art Museums building, you can expect much of the gallery set-up of the old building to be familiar. And the Fogg's central courtyard will remain intact. But there will be a new entrance from Prescott Street. "What we removed in the demolition you're talking about," says Manoogian, "were all the later additions to the building that were added one at time over 80 years and were never well integrated into the original building or with each other. They all had different floor-to-ceiling heights, and they all had different circulation point to the original building and to each other."
To that end, the fourth wall of the courtyard will be opened up. "You will be able to walk straight through the courtyard from the Fogg into the new wing and vice versa. It creates a single museum facility with two entrances that you can navigate through very easily from one side to the other, from the old to the new."
The old and the new. That's a theme Foster and his team kept reiterating at the MFA's Americas Wing dedication last Friday. But you have to wonder what that relationship between old and new really is. At the MFA, the Foster partners kept talking about restoring the North-South axis that was part of Guy Lowell's original master plan for the museum in 1909. But the name I.M. Pei — the designer of the MFA's West Wing, which opened in 1981 — was never mentioned. The Arthur M. Sackler Museum, designed by James Stirling, opened in 1985. It now will now most likely serve, says Manoogian, as "future home of the art-history faculty and the fine-arts library."
Otto Werner Hall — designed by architect Charles Gwathmey, who also designed the 1992 addition to New York's Guggenheim Museum —opened in 1991, but it was beset by unusual complications in its climate-control system that eventually led to the irreparable deterioration of its exterior walls. It is now rubble.
Sometimes — as in Piano's design of the new Gardner wing — architecture is about connecting old and new. Sometimes it's about an institution evolving to meet new challenges and set new goals. And sometimes, it seems, it's about correcting past mistakes.