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Polishing the Glass Pavilion


Feb. 23: The glass museum under construction.


Six years after conception, construction of the Toledo Museum of Art's Glass Pavilion is in the home stretch.

Set among mature oaks and maples on Monroe Street, its protective chrysalis is gradually being shed as panels are removed to reveal ultra-clear glass walls.

Emerging is a low-slung, transparent building, compact and graceful.

But there's still plenty to do.

Between now and the grand opening in August, glass doors will be hung; interior climate, so critical to works of art, will be monitored; light fixtures and security and fire systems will be installed.

The 18th and final shipment of glass panels that were made in Germany and shipped to China to be sized, laminated, and curved, arrived two weeks ago and will be installed in the coming weeks.

Exhibit cases are being assembled.

The museum's 7,000 glass pieces are packed and ready for the huge and potentially risky task of transfer to the new building next month.

The glass-making furnaces have been fired up and, to everyone's relief, proven to work. By September, the fiery glow will be visible from the street.

The furnaces, which reach 2,400 degrees, are among the things that make this $30 million facility unique: It is both a museum and a place to create glass. While visitors admire art glass crafted throughout the last 4,000 years, they'll be able to watch the mesmerizing process of glass being made by masters and students.

That's a sweet juxtaposition, but a real challenge in terms of controlling humidity, sound, and high temperatures generated in the hot shops, and the nearby galleries, which require strict climate control, said Florian Idenburg, associate in charge of U.S. projects for SANAA, Ltd., the Glass Pavilion's Japanese architects.

"We were asked from day one to be something that was very new," he said.

Among the architects's aims was dissolving the perception of a barrier between interior space and outside environment.

The pavilion shares similarities with another SANAA project, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, completed in 2004. Both have walls made of large glass panels set into floor-and-ceiling tracks, several courtyards, and a concrete floor.

But the elegant Toledo structure takes the Kanazawa museum's features to a new level, said Idenburg, who is also overseeing SANAA's second U.S. project - the $50 million New Museum of Contemporary Art in lower Manhattan, expected to be completed next year.

Some of the biggest hurdles that faced the pavilion's dozens of subcontractors, suppliers, designers, and consultants might not be noticed by visitors. The concrete floor was intended to be attractive and durable enough for both hot shops and galleries. Joint sealant between the huge wall panels should be crystal clear. Both required test after test after test before museum staff found suitable solutions, said Lowell Metzger, project manager for Rudolph/Libbe, Inc., the general contractor.

Another challenge: siting the cooling towers and pumps, and the emergency generator at a remote location - a nearby conference center that was once used as offices by Parkside Hospital. It was to be unseen and quiet, to complement the residential Old West End neighborhood, said Metzger.

The conference center's roof was removed to accommodate the cooling tower, an additional room was built, and the mechanicals were connected underground to the pavilion.


The Pavilion will have dual entrances: Monroe Street, facing the 1912 museum's gracious entrance (where a clear sculpture by glass guru Dale Chihuly will hang), and Parkwood Avenue, near a parking lot.

The museum has high hopes that a large, oval room designated for event rentals, The Glass Salon, will help pay the bills. It's adjacent to a food prep area and a small closed courtyard.

Not all rooms have glass walls. Rest rooms and a food preparation area have solid walls. So does a large gallery which can become a "black box" if needed to display mixed media, such as light-intolerant works on paper or digital art.

Five galleries (round, oblong, rectangular, and square with rounded edges), comprise 10,600 square feet of exhibition space. The entire building, including basement, totals nearly 76,000 square feet.

"We're going to show the collection in a new light, with new, exciting groupings," said Jutta-Annette Page, curator of glass.

A Glass Study Room, also with solid walls, will include sophisticated German-made exhibition cases that can hold thousands of pieces. Here, the large, colorful glass-paneled mural "Vitrana," by Dominick Labino will be mounted. It will be viewable through the doorway of a connecting gallery.

The popular Libbey Punch Bowl, along with exquisite cut-glass items from the same era, will be displayed as it was at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, said Page. "As soon as you enter the gallery, you're going to be wowed by that."

Among the common questions are what to do about water on the flat roof. The roof actually has a slight pitch and 47 large drains (imagine an inverted waffle iron) to collect and whisk away water.

How will the roof tolerate the weight of heavy snow? The roof has inch-thick steel panels which are built to tolerate movement, as are ceiling panels and the glass walls, which could be affected by intense winds, said Terry Beamsley, the museum's assistant director.

And won't kamikaze birds crash into the glass walls? New trees have been planted far enough away from the building that they aren't in flight paths, said Beamsley, adding that no bird deaths have been reported so far.

The basement is a utilitarian warren of rooms for a variety of glass work: flat glass, stained glass, slumping, fusing, cold casting, and sandblasting. A cold shop is equipped with tools where glass can be worked as if it were wood, and there's a wax room for making models and a plaster-mold room.

The entire glass collection will be stored in a large room with deep, movable shelves. And a glass conservation laboratory has natural light from a domed ocular set into a courtyard above.

The lower level also includes a warming kitchen, lunch room, and a crating area, as well as a fabrication room for building exhibits, maintenance rooms, and spaces for air handling equipment.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

or 419-724-6075.

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