As the collection and program at the Des Moines Art Center grew in the 1970s and early 1980s, it became clear the museum needed more exhibition space, especially for the very large-scale works that contemporary artists were producing. The museum also needed more in-house storage and a restaurant/meeting room. A competition to design a second addition to the Des Moines Art Center was held, and Richard Meier (American, born 1934), who had just designed the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, was chosen from a group of internationally prominent architects.
To meet the museum’s needs for an additional 28,000 square feet without completely eclipsing the Saarinen building, Meier’s plan called for dividing his addition into three parts: a restaurant/meeting room in the courtyard; a small addition with gallery, storage, and a service area on the west end of the Saarinen building; and a pavilion for the permanent collections and temporary exhibitions tied by a glassed-in walkway to the north end of the original building.
The design for the Des Moines addition bears a strong resemblance to its immediate predecessor, the High Museum. The sweeping curves, the signature white porcelain-coated metals panels on the exterior, and the central atrium running the height of the pavilion can be seen in the Atlanta building. In Des Moines, however, Meier used granite cladding for the first time to offset the white panels and also set his addition on a granite base that is complementary to Saarinen’s Lannon stone. A pyramidal cap on the pavilion’s central cube is the inverse of the V-shaped butterfly roof section of Pei’s addition.
Based on a nine-square grid, the highly sculptural pavilion’s exterior includes numerous cutouts and cutaways, enhancing the already dramatic geometry of the building while creating dynamic interior shapes as well as usable outdoor spaces in the voids. These same ideas can be seen on a much larger scale at the architect’s recently completed Getty Museum outside Los Angeles.
Richard Meier was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1984.