Navigating North Carolina Museum of Art


To describe the physical space of North Carolina Museum of Art is no small feat. The Museum by its separation and arrangement of space is multi-tiered, separated by the two buildings and the outdoor exhibits. There is the East building with its dark multileveled halls and corridors, the west exhibit with its bright open halls separated by a few walls, and the spacious outdoor exhibits that follow a long trail path. When understanding the design of the space, it is important in understanding the history of the museum. The East (Stone) building was the first building and was bought in the 1960s to be remodeled into the future site of the then established Morgan street art exhibit. The West building previously had been used for Native American inhabitants, Civil War training and prior to purchase the site for Polk Youth Prison for juvenile offenders. The museum park was produced in 1988, which added a trail system and a site for outdoor “natural” works. Finally In 2000, plans for the West building were laid into motion with the construction of a new building. This building was built specifically for museum use and would hence follow the designer’s sensibilities.

Due to the history of the Stone Building, it makes sense that the design wouldn’t communicate the intended ‘vibe’ as well as it should. The location has poor lighting, a dense arrangement of displays, and a dark color palette that makes the building feel like a cavern. To compensate, the museum uses various lights to illuminate the art, which make them pop out amidst the dark environment. It could be argued that this puts the art front and center to the viewer. In prior interviews several partisans have told me that they prefer the Stone Building better to the West building due to how condensed the art is, enriching the space in their eyes. Still most people admit the wayfinding of the Stone building is quite poor. Indeed, the location of the payment exhibits and the general exhibit arrangement doesn’t make sense until one considers the prior history of the Stone building. As an aside, this part of the museum tends to give off more of a homely community feeling then the west side.

The West building conversely was built with the express purpose of showcasing the art and thereby has more of a traditional museum expression. It is wide open with art pieces showcased in static expression. The lighting of the rooms are far more natural, sharing natural lights with subtle artificial lighting. Art pieces are arranged in symmetry with multiple sections sectioned off. This has the character of neutralizing the art pieces, removing any additional flavor that could be gleaned from the environment. Sections of the West building used for marketing, also share this ideology with a clinical pure presentation that stresses modernity and purity.

The outdoor section of museum in relationship to the prior two sections of the museum adds a sense of breath to the environment. The tending notion seems to state that the environment surrounding the museum is art in itself as it blends the natural with the unnatural. This is important as it creates a gradual transition from the museum to the rest of the world that expresses its natural fit in it as such. The space itself acts as a fresh of air as it mixes exercise and world appreciation with art appreciation making it a cheaper yet effectual way to add to the climate of the Museum.