Changes to the Walker Art Building entrance created a public backlash over the summer and have forced the College to rework its plans for the future of the building. The Walker Art Building is home to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
An $18 million renovation was approved by the Board of Trustees and announced in mid-May. The project provided much-needed changes to the interior of the building and also altered the front entrance on the Quad.
The proposed removal of the front steps was widely publicized in local media in the ensuing weeks, and that possibility caused the protection group Maine Preservation to place the Walker Art Building on its "Maine's Most Endangered Properties List."
In response to the criticism from scholars and alumni, President Barry Mills announced a decision mid-summer to revisit the plan.
"Much of what we heard was thoughtful, educated, certainly passionate, articulate, and well-reasoned," Mills said in his September 1 convocation address.
Although the College has not released renderings and designs for any of the plans, officials now say that the steps will probably stay.
The original plan called for a sunken entryway to the building. A platform would have stood in place of the current entrance. The tall columns and famous lions would have continued to overlook the quad.
"People are sometimes put off by those stairs," said museum director Katy Kline in an interview. The dark entryway to the museum sometimes intimidates students, she said.
The May design, Kline said, would draw people into the building.
"It integrated itself into the quad level in a very nice way," she said. "It was inviting."
Some alumni who read of the designs were troubled by the disappearance of what they considered one of the College's most majestic pieces of architecture.
James Bradner, Jr. '68, of Highland Park, Ill., remembers graduations and Shakespearean plays on the terrace surrounding the stairs. He understands the need for changes, but thinks that the entrance is just too historic.
"I don't think the answer is to change the front of the building," he said in a phone interview.
To some architects, the stair removal would have been a disgrace.
"If the steps are removed the essential character of the building will be irrevocably compromised," said University of Virginia Professor of Architectural History Richard Guy Wilson in a letter to the College obtained by the Orient. Wilson wrote a book on the architecture of McKim, Mead, and White, the architects responsible for the 1894 building.
"Those steps are essential; you would not think of removing the front steps of the U. S. Capitol, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they are part of the essence of the design and how the building should be experienced," he wrote.
Criticisms like these led the college to reconsider the plan.
"It's a beautiful building," said Vice President for Planning and Institutional Advancement Scott Meiklejohn. "Those feelings are pretty understandable."
Now a new ground level entrance and the corresponding guest services "entry court" will have to be placed somewhere else. This complicates all the other plans for the museum.
"The challenege of making a one- story jewel-box building... into a 21st century art museum is significant," said Meiklejohn.
Not all is lost, Meiklejohn said. "[The first plan] did bring us to a place of learning a lot about how to make the inside of the building work," he said.
This summer's plans contained designs for additional gallery space, a small expansion toward Maine Street, storage space, artwork arrival facilities, classroom facilities, and handicapped access. A new climate control system was one of the integral parts of the project. Currently, consumer-type fans sit in some of the galleries.
The plan would also allow the large rotunda to be used for its original purpose as a sculpture gallery.
The entry court was to contain the book and gift shop, restrooms, baggage facilities, and other visitor amenities. Currently, gift shop merchandise sits next to priceless displays of ancient Assyrian reliefs.
Now these plans must all be re-thought to fit within a new design?and the same budget.
New plans soon
Plans will be presented to a planning committee later this month, Kline said. They could be drastically different than the blueprints approved in May.
"I'm hopeful, but I appreciate how difficult it will be," Kline said, to integrate all of the desired improvements without altering the Quad entrance. The College will have to stick to its $18 million budget, which was funded entirely by money raised in past years and does not draw on the endowment.
The museum will close in December and is scheduled to reopen in January 2007. In the meantime, some artwork will be lent to colleges and museums, including the New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Paper-based art will remain at the College for use by classes, and the vast collection of ancient work will be moved to Hubbard Hall's Bliss Room.
Kline is sympathetic to students who hoped to learn from the museum's entire collection during their time at Bowdoin.
"I feel terrible about it," she said. "It just has to happen."
Along with holding a $100 million collection, the museum allows visitors to stand inches away from artwork. Students can look at pictures, she said, but, "You just don't get that shiver of connection across centuries."
The new arrival facilities, climate control systems, and gallery space will attract even more top-quality artwork, Kline said.
"We will be able to borrow from anywhere," she said.