New Mint to be 'vertical museum'

With the building of the Mint Museum's new uptown facility, Charlotte will see something new, what museum officials are calling “a vertical museum.”

On Sunday, with a public celebration near the site including art activities for kids and a brass band, the Mint will kick off construction of the $57 million building, set to begin on South Tryon Street in about two weeks. Unlike the Mint's long-time home, a two-story building in a woodsy setting on Randolph Road, the new facility will rise five stories.

Visitors will have to travel upward, on elevators and escalators, to see the art.

“For an urban setting, the best approach is a vertical museum,” said Andrew Cruse, project architect with Machado and Silvetti Associates in Boston, designers of the building. “In an urban place you don't have the luxury of sprawling over a larger campus, and the Mint gains and the city gains from having the Mint in an urban location.”

Mint officials, who've sought an uptown facility for more than a decade, agree. But they're also anxious about the response of a city that beyond uptown's towers has a suburban feel. “People aren't used to a vertical museum,” said attorney Zach Smith, building committee chairman.

The Mint Museum of Crafts + Design on North Tryon, which also will close and move to the new facility, is in a taller building but the art is only on two floors. Looking for a comparison, Smith pointed to New York, mentioning the Guggenheim Museum (five stories) and the Museum of Modern Art (six stories).

The architects, Smith and other Mint officials have worked to fashion a building that will pull people off the street and carry them comfortably to the art.

Glass elevator

The main floor of the 145,000-square-foot museum, scheduled to open in fall 2010, will be the second floor. The galleries for changing exhibitions and permanent collections will be on the third and fourth floors.

Wide stairs will lead from Tryon Street to the second floor entrance. A lobby at street level will have a glass elevator rising one floor and offering views of uptown. Conventional elevators will run from the below-ground parking garage to the second floor.

The ground level on Tryon Street will not have art from the Mint collection but a museum shop selling art works and other material.

Much of the ground level in Wachovia's commercial and cultural project on South Tryon, including the Mint and other cultural facilities, will have retail. Wachovia is building the Mint and other cultural facilities in an arrangement with the city.

Smith said Wachovia did not require the Mint to have retail on the first floor, but that the available space was insufficient for anything but an introductory gallery.

“We would have loved to have had the entire first floor but we were not offered that,” said Smith.

The museum, he added, will explore using touch screens in the lobby or street-level kiosks to give people information on the art that awaits inside.

Grand room

Once on the second level, museum-goers will get a taste of art – the chandelier by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly that now hangs in the crafts museum.

Visitors will enter one of the buildings main features, a grand room with a ceiling that rises from 45 to 90 feet and a 65-foot window facing north offering views of uptown. Containing some art, the room will serve as the museum's main gathering and circulation space, with elevators and escalators going to the third floor craft galleries and the fourth floor contemporary and American art galleries.

Smith fought hard for the escalators, believing visitors would find them more comfortable than stairs. He and other Mint officials felt moving people easily floor to floor was so important they committed most of a just-announced $5 million foundation grant to pay for an additional elevator and escalators.

Mint officials believe that to get people to come – and as important to come back – they need to enjoy moving around the vertical museum.

“We think we've met the challenge,” said director Phil Kline.