The University Arts Building is still four months away from completion, but already it’s a cutting a striking image across the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Spanning 42,500 square feet, the building juts out and rises up in the middle of everything, poised to be seen. Designed by architects at the DLR Group, the new construction is mostly modern with its boxy frame, large glass windows and metal accents. Traditional brick facing connects it visually to campus architecture, and a skyway connects it physically to the Church Fine Arts building.
Last week, Kris and I—along with a group of artists, patrons and public art types—took a tour of the new construction with University Galleries Director Paul Baker Prindle and UNR Construction Manager Lyle Woodward. Here are some of the details:
- The $35 million building opens into an atrium that leads to music practice rooms, an Electronic Acoustic Composition Lab, a recital hall and a fabrication lab—or fab lab—on the first floor.
- The second and third floors are reserved for art exhibition space.
- The main staircase leads to a two-story glass atrium that is flooded with natural light. “The stairwell is a space that we think is well suited for a bauble or a hanging work,” said Baker Prindle.
- The Electronic Acoustic Lab will be used to create background music for film, video games and advertisements. It will be the only one of its kind in the state. “There are a bunch of electronic music composers who overlap very heavily with visual arts,” explained Baker Prindle. “We’re going to do a regular series of electronic digital music concerts that will be livecast on the community radio station.”
- The recital hall seats 287 and was created in consultation with an acoustic designer for optimal sound. Features include wood and fabric wall panels that create a perfect sound environment for a hall that is filled to 60 percent to capacity. To achieve the correct reverberations with more or fewer audience members, sound curtains along the mezzanine can be pulled into place. The hall itself will be sound-locked, so that only cables going to the recording studio can pick up the music inside.
- The second floor adds 2,000 square feet of temperature-controlled display space to existing galleries around campus. Ceilings reach 42 feet in the temporary exhibition gallery. Security will be tighter than in Church Fine Arts and the Jot Travis Building, where there’s a student gallery. “What’s great about this space is it’s humidity controlled, it’s light controlled, and uber-secure,” said Baker Prindle. “There’s door connections on everything. There’s cameras everywhere.”
- The building was designed with art installations in mind. In a narrow hallway, a commissioned light installation is planned that uses the south-facing window cutaway in the ceiling. The atmosphere of the piece will change with the seasonal path of the sun.
- In order to meet the standards for borrowing works from other museums and private collections, the building includes a secure loading dock and transition space for artworks that require temperature acclimation.
- A large freight elevator accommodates loads as wide as two grand pianos and weights up to 7,300 pounds. Protocols for moving in-house and loaned works vary. “In-house, there’s fewer rules about when we’re moving collection objects around,” said Baker Prindle. “But when we have a loaned object, it has to be continuous and secure the whole time it’s moving. If anybody comes into that path and something happens, then our insurance is likely not to cover it.”
- The permanent collection gallery will feature mobile walls that can display 200 objects—or around 5 percent of the museum’s collection—at one time. The first exhibition will be grouped by theme instead of a traditional chronological approach and will include didactic text in English and Spanish. Outreach programs for college professors and K-12 teachers are in development.
- “There’s a lot of drive to do more object-based teaching and share art with more students because it’s not well-funded in the school district,” said Baker Prindle. “[The new program] will help equip teachers in the district with materials, information and lesson plans for them to be able to teach with art objects in a STEAM sort of way. … We’re interested in the art objects being taught from a fine arts perspective. But, I think, just as importantly, you can teach science and tech and math from them as well.”
- Behind a large glass window, gallery-goers can observe how the rest of the permanent collection—which contains 5,000 discrete objects—is stored with a series of rolling racks. This space will also be used in collaboration with teachers and professors who wish to use collection objects as teaching tools.
- Baker Prindle explained, “The back rack will be empty, so what we’ll do is—anytime anyone from campus wants to teach from an object, we can put it in the window if it’s not already on view. Whatever is there just rotates to the back.”
- The works on paper study room will double as Baker Prindle’s office. In Church Fine Arts, works on paper, which make up a majority of the permanent collection, are stored in a secure location that students cannot access. “[Works on paper] will be stored in flat files that stack pretty high,” said Baker Prindle. “Matted works will be on ledges where students can study from them.”
- A skyway leading to and from Church Fine Arts was almost cut from the project due to budget, but, as of last week, it was nearing completion. Keeping a literal bridge between the existing building where art is made and the new space where art is shown is more than a symbolic bond—it is also a practical consideration for people traveling to the University Fine Arts building in difficult weather conditions.