Brooklyn Based Architecture Studio SO-IL

Brooklyn-based architecture studio SO-IL has been appointed to design a new home for the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) on the Williams College campus in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Although the museum itself was first established in 1926, the museum’s art collection-now numbering more than 15,000 works-has been housed in part of Lawrence Hall, which served as the college’s first library building, since 1851. The current museum space has been expanded a few times, notably in the 1920s and 30s and during the 1980s, when Charles Moore led the design of an important addition and famous for its columns.

The facility designed in this way will be built on the former site of the former Williams Inn, which was demolished by Williams College in 2020, and will serve as the first stand-alone facility for the WCMA. According to the press announcement, the new museum building will be designed as a “collaborative working environment” and will provide a “substantial” gallery space for the WCMA’s growing collection, as well as a space dedicated to community gatherings and “facilities for easy access to collections for requests from students, professors and visiting researchers.”

“We are honored to partner with the Williams community to present the new Williams College Museum of Art, a project that combines our passion for the arts with our commitment to education,” co-founders Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg said in a statement. “The new museum will connect the campus to the wider Northern Berkshires cultural ecosystem and provide an opportunity to promote innovative and sustainable museum and building practices. We are extremely grateful to be working with a team of the best students, professors and professionals as we embark on this exciting endeavor.”

SO-IL was selected to develop the design of the new building by Maud S. Mandel, President of Williams College, on the recommendation of a 12-person architectural selection committee, which first reviewed a long list of 40 national and international architectural firms before limiting the candidates to a shortlist of four.

“While the caliber and creativity of all the shortlisted applicants was impressive, SO-IL’s inventive and enthusiastic approach to our museum’s educational mission stood out,” Mandel said. “We are confident that we have made the best decision for Williams.”

“We are excited to partner with an exciting new voice in architecture to create a design that will fascinate and educate the art world of tomorrow,” added Pamela Franks, Director of the WCMA. “With SO-IL, we have a company that perfectly fits the profile of our museum: deeply committed to the arts and academics, committed to collaboration with students, connected to the Berkshires community and sensitive to the beloved natural landscape of our region.”

As the College explained in detail, today’s announcement is based on a two-year planning and programming study conducted in consultation with Deborah Berke Partners. In parallel with the design work on the new wcma facility, it is also planned to launch a Lawrence Hall programming study that considers the historic building “in complementarity with the new museum and understanding its full potential as an artistic and academic space”, according to the College.

The design process is expected to last eight months and will be submitted to the college’s Board of Directors for approval at the end of it. Pending the approval of the Board of Directors, the project will take place “in accordance” with the wcma centenary in 2026-2027. There will be more updates once the visuals and other details of the new building are revealed.

The WCMA project is not the only major effort underway on the historic 229-year-old campus of the private liberal arts college of New England; earlier this year, Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates shared plans for a major renovation and expansion of the Davis Center, a longtime diversity, equity and inclusion center at Williams.