The largest contemporary art museum in the United States is housed on a vast 17-acre industrial campus. For the final phase of a 20-year masterplan, the design team developed a family of wayfinding elements that help various users navigate a complex aggregation of open and enclosed spaces to enhance a memorable cultural experience.
On a quick deadline—four months from project start to opening day—the design team’s solutions extended an already strong brand with new guides, customized typography, a series of exterior signs throughout the campus and downtown, interior informational and directional signage throughout all buildings and a cast concrete orientation model. These solutions enhance legibility and build upon a strong identity that parallels the institution’s evolutions from a scrappy start-up non-profit in a remote part of Massachusetts to an established destination that attracts 185,000 visitors a year.
To engage with the much-loved, and now iconic, identity of the place, an oversized dimensional sign set in a slightly customized Futura was erected on the most visible building from the approach to the museum, which in fact is neither the entrance to nor part of the visitor experience. This bold mark recurs across the museum’s collateral, advertising, catalogs and other merchandise.
The team came upon a pile of old two-inch-thick steel plates from a temporary installation by the artist Robert Morris, each five-by-ten-foot piece weighing 2,500 pounds, exposed to the elements, pocked, rusted, and gouged from years of abuse. This was the (im)perfect material to use for the totemic elements that were key markers for the signs being developed. Pieces were cut by waterjet, giving a wonderfully tactile, comb-like surface to the edges of the slabs. Other materials flowed from elements of the site: unfinished blackened steel became the background for directional signs; aluminum—painted on-brand red—was used for life-preserver elements.
Chris Grimley (principal in charge), Shannon McLean (lead designer)