Williams College Museum of Art Expands

SO-IL Architects Selected

By: - Jun 01, 2022

SO-IL architects selected to design the first stand-alone building for the Williams College Museum of Art

New facility for teaching, collections, exhibitions and programs will transform the museum’s engagement with the campus, the Williamstown community and the Berkshires cultural region

Williams College President Maud S. Mandel announced today that SO-IL architects will develop the conceptual design for a new building for the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) in Williamstown, MA. The project would provide the first stand-alone facility for WCMA, widely acknowledged as one of the most influential institutions in its field, whose collection has been housed since 1851 in Lawrence Hall, the College’s first library building.

Based in Brooklyn, New York, SO-IL has quickly risen to prominence since principals Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg founded the practice in 2008. Known for designs that inspire intellectual and social engagement, the firm has been widely praised for projects including the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the University of California, Davis (its largest building to date) and an art campus for the non-profit arts organization Amant in New York. Among the many honors the firm has received are the MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program Award, the AIA Young Architects Award and, most recently, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Award in Architecture.

President Mandel selected SO-IL following the recommendation of a 12-member Architect Selection Committee composed of college representatives from WCMA, the faculty, and across campus, who brought their collective expertise in arts, architecture, diversity and inclusion, sustainability and community engagement to the process. The selection committee considered nearly 40 national and international architecture firms, then narrowed the candidates to a short list of four. The decision was informed by a two-year planning and program study conducted in consultation with Deborah Berke Partners, New York. In parallel with the design work for the new museum, there also are plans for a detailed programming study of historic Lawrence Hall to explore complementarities with the new museum and understand its full potential as an arts and academic space.

“Art is at the center of everything we do for our students, our campus, and our community, and so building a new home for Williams College Museum of Art is a focal point of the College’s strategic plan,” said Mandel. “While the caliber and creativity of all the shortlisted candidates were awe-inspiring, SO-IL’s inventive and enthusiastic approach to our museum’s teaching mission stood out. We are confident we have made the best decision for Williams.”

“We are delighted to partner with an exciting new voice in the architectural field to create a design that captivates and educates the art world of tomorrow,” said WCMA Director Pamela Franks. “With SO-IL, we have a firm that perfectly matches the profile of our museum: deeply engaged with the arts and academics, committed to collaborating with students, connected to the Berkshires community, and sensitive to the beloved natural landscape of our region.”

“We are honored to be working with the Williams community to envision the new Williams College Museum of Art, a project the brings together our passion for the arts with our commitment to education,” said SO-IL co-founders Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg. “The new museum will connect the campus to the larger cultural ecosystem of the Northern Berkshires and provide an opportunity to advance innovative, sustainable building and museum practices, offering students invaluable expertise in responsible stewardship. We are tremendously grateful to be working alongside a team of the best students, faculty and professionals as we embark on this exciting endeavor.”

Subject to approval by the college’s Board of Trustees once the conceptual design phase is complete, the project is scheduled to proceed in alignment with WCMA’s centennial year of 2026-27. The new museum, to be located on the former site of the Williams Inn in Williamstown, will offer substantial gallery space for exhibiting more of the 15,000 works in the museum’s collection, as well as facilities for easy access to collections for student, faculty and visiting scholar requests. It will be designed as a collaborative work environment and will provide dedicated space for the community and other groups to gather. Sustainability will be a driving force in all design and operations decisions, as will a desire to reflect and respond to the natural beauty of the landscape. The conceptual design process is expected to last approximately eight months.

About SO-IL

Founded in 2008 by Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu, SO-IL produces buildings, interiors, furniture and landscapes around the world. As a collective of diverse thinkers and makers, the practice engages with the ever-changing social, economic and natural environment through active dialogue that considers context, function and opportunity.

Diverse in origin, the SO-IL team speaks a dozen languages and is informed by global narratives and perspectives. With its ambitious private and public clients, the practice has completed projects in cities from Leon, Seoul and Lisbon to its hometown of Brooklyn. Other work includes the design for the New York Frieze Art fair structure, a concept home for nomadic living in Milan that encourages an active awareness of life beyond routine, a museum on the University of California, Davis campus that cultivates an intentionally open-ended relationship between the visitor and the site, and the transformation of an industrial heritage site into a thriving cultural campus in Meisenthal, France.

SO-IL’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Benaki Museum. The firm has received numerous accolades, including the Emerging Voices award from the Architectural League, the Vilcek Award, and the Curbed Groundbreakers Award.