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Airy Elegance

Art & Culture / Interior Design / Travel

With a strong sense of aesthetics, the architects at Foster + Partners have carefully redesigned the Norton Museum of Art. Since its reopening, the museum has become a magnet for lovers of art and architecture. In charge of the furniture: Walter Knoll

Two blues. The neon signage of the Norton Museum of Art shines in Yves Klein blue against the deep blue sky of West Palm Beach, a good hour’s drive north of Miami Beach. In front of the entrance stands a sculpture, almost six meters tall, in a rectangular water basin; it seems to hover over the surface. “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen from 1999 celebrates a tool from a past era. The brush fibers of the eraser stand out strikingly and stridently in the air, pointing toward the new extension by Foster + Partners – perfectly connecting the past and present of this extraordinary art space in Florida.

The Norton Museum of Art opened in 1941. It is home to the industrialist Ralph Norton’s collection; around 7,600 works from a wide range of eras are on display here. The extension and garden were added recently. Thirty-five percent more exhibition space and a large tropical garden laid out by Foster + Partners along the south side: The architects have stated that the redesign of the Art Deco-inspired building only included alterations that proved to be “unavoidable”. The existing rooms were gently modified, floor plans revised, an earlier axis was revived, and an auditorium and sculpture gallery were created. Most importantly, Foster + Partners brought to bear the lush nature of Florida; embraced it intimately, even; the old banyan tree is a good example, with its twenty-meter-high crown integrated into the silvery canopy of the new building.

The museum reopened in 2019. The result is an airy elegance perfectly suited to the Walter Knoll furniture. For the newly created restaurant with a view of the tropical garden, the Deen chair that EOOS designed for Walter Knoll was selected. For Foster + Partners, its straightforwardness and specially made white, filigree legs are the embodiment of the uncomplicated Palm Beach lifestyle. “The chair is very comfortable, has a good height for dining at the table, and looks good from behind too.” The coated chair legs also complement the new micro-terrazzo floor of the restaurant. “The whole thing looks cool, but not cold,” explain the architects. Foster 512 benches with a graphite gray frame await visitors in the exhibition rooms. A semicircular custom-made version of the model that Foster + Partners designed for Walter Knoll can be found by the stairway.

Understatement in rooms and furniture. For the architects, “the stage belongs to art and nature.” And so, in time for its 80th birthday next year, the Norton Museum of Art has without a doubt become the best version of itself.

Characters Magazine, August 2020