Springs Forward

The venerable Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is getting a thoughtful addition.

The two-story Tryba addition, with associate principal David Daniel serving as design architect, will be about 48,000 square feet. To put this in perspective, the original building is more than 80,000 square feet. The addition will run behind the original one-story Meem-designed east wing, which faces Dale Street, and will wrap around the interior of the existing open-air courtyard.

In style, the new addition will be neo-modern in a minimalist vein. The principal element is a glass atrium that runs along one side of the courtyard from which it's been carved out. The atrium, which will be visible from both Dale and Cascade, connects Meem's entrance pavilion to the new galleries that will be built along the east and north sides of the courtyard. Both in its street presence and in its relationship to the front of the Meem, it is one of the most important components of the proposed plan.

The atrium, which will be called the El Pomar Corridor, will be enclosed in glass and aluminum, linking it to the aluminum details on the Meem. However, the two will be clearly distinct in color, with the older material having a cool bluish sheen and the new featuring a dull champagne finish with a warm, golden glow.

View of the proposed Tryba addition to the Colorado 
Springs Fine Arts Center.
View of the proposed Tryba addition to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
View of the El Pomar Corridor from the original lobby.
View of the El Pomar Corridor from the original lobby.

Inside, the new wing is entered off the main lobby. It is up a short but broad flight of steps located just to the right of the Garden Gallery. I hope extra care is taken with the gorgeous windows in that existing gallery, which is part of the project. On one side of the corridor is a wall that was formerly on the exterior -- it's the back side of the east wing -- and on the other side is a two-story glass-and-aluminum wall that faces the courtyard. In the current rendering, a row of vertical beams that reads like a colonnade runs along the courtyard side of the El Pomar Corridor. The floors will be done to complement the original terrazzo in the lobby. They will be in the same colors, and the pattern will be what Tryba refers to as a "sister" to the original one.

The El Pomar Corridor provides access to the new space on the east side of the courtyard. On the first floor, a series of galleries will extend into the new space on the north side; these will be devoted to the center's permanent collection, which is mostly put away in storage. This area will be named for the Loo Family, since Kathy Loo played a big part in getting the project going. Along with her late husband, Dusty, Loo assembled an important collection of American landscapes, and many of those are to be given to the Fine Arts Center when the new wing is completed. The institution has also just announced that it will spend $1 million to purchase fifty works by Dale Chihuly (see Artbeat).

On the second floor, which will be up a grand, if minimally detailed, staircase located at the northeast end of the El Pomar Corridor, a group of large galleries will be devoted to special exhibitions, including traveling shows. These exhibits are an increasingly important part of the Fine Arts Center's programming, as they bring in the crowds. The Chihuly show last year attracted 80,000 visitors, while the Andy Warhol exhibit brought in 20,000, making them, respectively, the largest and second-largest attended shows in the institution's seventy-year history.

The last offering in the current facility will be a Peter Max retrospective, opening in February. After it closes, at the end of April, demolition of the Guy wing will begin. The Fine Arts Center is not going to close during construction, and the SaGaJi Theater will remain open, as will the lounge, though the restaurant will be closed while a new kitchen is installed. There will be almost no exhibition space, however, so already planned features -- most notably, the upcoming James McNeil Whistler show -- will be presented in leased space. Though no official announcement has been made and the deal has not yet been finalized, De Marsche did confirm a rumor that the Whistler exhibit would most likely be held in a building across from the Pioneer's Museum, which is located in the old El Paso County Courthouse in downtown Colorado Springs.

When the addition is finished, in the fall of 2007, the Fine Arts Center will be a very different place than it is now. I love it so much exactly the way it is that I'm somewhat saddened to see the updating. But I'm not horrified, the way I was with the first plan conjured up by Turner with HGA. Tryba and his team have really tried to be sympathetic to the original building. And like so many other things built in the early twentieth century, the Fine Arts Center was conceived for a smaller community than the one in which it now finds itself.

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