Property & Buildings

Tacoma Art Museum Expansion Gets Rave Reviews

Art exhibitions aren’t the only things attracting critical acclaim at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Public response to a recent 16,636-square-foot expansion project at the museum in Tacoma, Washington has been “fantastic,” according to Tom Marseille, principal-in-charge for WSP USA. “The client is thrilled with the end product and has seen a significant boost in the amount of visitors to the museum,” he said.

Tacoma Art Museum, exterior, expansion, sustainable


A new entrance to the Tacoma Art Museum was part of the $10.8 million expansion project.

The $10.8 million expansion doubled the museum’s gallery space and added new galleries, a sculpture hallway, an enlarged lobby and a new main entrance. It also created a permanent home for an exhibit of the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art.

“The addition of the Haub Gallery provides the public access to one of the preeminent collections of western American art in the country,” Marseille said. “Improved restaurant space and meeting spaces also position the museum to hold events much more effectively.”

Essential Environment

WSP provided mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering for the expansion on behalf of the Tacoma Art Museum and Olson Kundig Architects. The work included replacement of the outdated heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the original museum.

“More reliable and precise control of environmental conditions in the existing gallery reduces operation and maintenance costs, helps preserve and protect the permanent collection and enables the Tacoma Art Museum to host traveling exhibitions that contractually require certain environmental conditions, providing a more robust cultural offering to the community,” Marseille says.

“The design for the original museum’s HVAC systems were inadequate, such that they never performed as hoped,” added Rick Schwab, project manager for WSP. “We studied and came up with the solutions that fixed that problem, and were able to bring those same solutions to bear on the new Haub Family gallery addition.”

WSP also provided the energy calculations needed to support the museum’s application for utility rebates.

Award-Winning Expansion

The project, which opened to the public in October 2014, also impressed judges from Engineering News-Record (ENR) Northwest, which recently recognized the visual and environmental innovations of the museum expansion with an award of merit in the cultural/worship category.

Tacoma Art Museum, galleries, space, expansion, sustainable


The Tacoma Art Museum expansion created space for new galleries, a sculpture hallway and an enlarged lobby.

ENR-Northwest noted the building’s sustainable features, including its reduced water usage through adaptive landscape vegetation and low-flow water fixtures, the high-efficiency mechanical and LED lighting systems, and incorporation of reclaimed materials from the existing building.

“The construction team faced challenges, including adjusting the construction sequence to let the pre-existing elevator continue operation while the new lobby was renovated,” according to ENR-Northwest. “In addition, to refurbish the air-handling units with new humidification components, the project’s mechanical team spent 2,000 hours coordinating the systems to appropriate conditions.”

“It is always great to receive recognition from peer groups, on both a personal and professional level,” Marseille said.

Problem Solvers

One construction challenge where WSP played a role involved the installation of wood flooring in the gallery space.

“Conditions needed to be maintained at relatively low humidity in the midst of a heat wave, and the contractor wanted to use the new HVAC systems to help,” Schwab said. “Unfortunately, those systems had not yet been commissioned, and so were not initially available.”

Collaboration among the contractors, the commissioning agent and WSP led to the creation of an accelerated schedule that expedited the completion of the HVAC system that enabled the contractor to complete the flooring on time.

“Everyone on the project team worked together to solve problems,” Marseille said. “Lots of meetings by all project stakeholders, and an accelerated commissioning schedule that contributed to some system improvements, resulted in the successful completion of the installation.”

“The new galleries are beautiful spaces, and the integration of the addition with the existing museum actually resulted in a better overall architectural design,” Schwab added.


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