In 1955, only five years after he had received international attention for his Glass house in New Canaan, Connecticut, the MWPAI Board of Trustees commissioned architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005) to design his first art museum, which opened to international acclaim in 1960.
Johnson’s design for the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute is elegant in its simplicity. The façade is a dark granite box that floats unexpectedly on a glass pedestal surrounded by a dry moat. The visitor enters through one of two avenues, from the staircase at the Genesee Street front entrance or via the parking lot entry at the rear. In each case, there is a dramatic change in scale from low ceiling to the triumphant Edward Wales Root Sculpture Court, a two-story sky lit atrium. Here, one arrives at the uplifting heart of the Museum. Johnson designed the Sculpture Court to be the orienting center, to which gallery-goers can return for the refreshment of natural light. He found an interesting engineering solution to achieve this vast expanse of space: the building’s structural frame is comprised of eight ferroconcrete piers that support four intersecting posttensioned concrete beams, all sheathed in bronze panels, from which the museum’s second-floor gallery and exterior walls hang.
A Museum Education Wing that opened in 1995 connects the Johnson building and Fountain Elms.