New York’s Favorite Sculpture Park Is Getting a Massive Renovation—With a Focus on Accessibility

A $45 million overhaul aims to give the popular Storm King Art Center what it’s long needed: slightly more structure.

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Storm King has always had a lot going for it. Just outside the town of Cornwall in New York’s historic Hudson Valley, the renowned outdoor sculpture park is just an hour’s drive (or a slightly longer train-to-cab) from Manhattan, putting it within easy reach of the country’s highest concentration of culture vultures. It has size: occupying the former estate of industrialist Ralph E. Ogden, the grounds comprise some 500 acres of rolling hills and forest, with stunning views of the Hudson Highlands in the distance. It has a fast-growing stream of visitors (nearly a quarter million last year), and seminal works by modernist masters (Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero, Henry Moore). And perhaps best of all, it has its name, borrowed from the nearby mountain and the seasonal thunder bursts that occasionally roll down the river, sounding (according to famed author Washington Irving) like ancient ghosts playing nine-pins in the valley.

An aerial view rendering of  the new welcome sequence.

Image © Storm King Art Center

But there are things the now 63-year-old institution has never had. "The only flush toilet is at the top of the hill, where the museum is," says Amy Weisser, Storm King’s Deputy Director of Strategic Planning. "At peak times in the fall, it can be difficult to get on site." Since the park’s inception, the guest experience has been remarkably lacking in formal structure: entering via the parking lot, visitors embarked on a more or less self-guided tour with little assistance in terms of wayfinding or armatures to help them along route; at a physical level, the situation is obviously daunting for older visitors and those with limited mobility, but it also presents a conceptual obstacle for those unfamiliar with contemporary art. As Storm King gears up for some of its most ambitious programming to date, its leaders are eager "to make sure our audience is comfortable and confident," says Weisser. And they’re now underway with a plan to meet that objective.

And seen from the ground.

Image © Storm King Art Center

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Pulling in a design team that includes New York-based firm WXY Architects, Ireland’s Heneghan Peng Architects, and landscape practices Reed Hilderbrand and Gustafson Porter + Bowman, Weisser and her colleagues at Storm King have embarked on an extensive capital program that will transform the facility into a user-friendly environment capable of keeping pace with an ever-larger audience while making it "a place of comfort and ease for all sorts of different people," as Hilderbrand principal Beka Sturges puts it. Comprising a "welcome sequence" with enhanced and expanded visitor amenities, as well as an all-new Construction, Fabrication, and Maintenance Building, the renovation is expected to be complete next year at a total cost of $45 million—a fair chunk of that figure being picked up by the State of New York, who chipped in $11.3 million in grant money and even sent Governor Kathy Hochul to the groundbreaking this June.

A rendering of the new South Meadow, reclaimed from a former parking lot.

Image © Storm King Art Center

For the collaborators now tasked with finishing the job, a few key priorities are at the heart of the design solution. "The star is the landscape," says WXY principal Claire Weisz. "We wanted to allow greater access and visitor capacity, but leave the view corridors for art and nature undisturbed." That light-touched approach is evident in the team’s design for the new welcome sequence: moving nearly all parking to a single site, the landscape team opened up an additional 12 acres for exhibitions, while inserting a softly-graded, tree-lined path that runs from the point of entry into the park proper. It passes a refurbished wetland area along the way, as well as extensive new plantings of asters and wildflowers, adding what Sturges terms a more "ornamental character" that eases the transition from the outside world. To further emphasize that shift, the architects have designed a pair of buildings, one an expansion of an existing structure containing information and ticketing services, the other bathrooms and other services; allowing patrons to prep for the experience ahead, both buildings are timber-clad and low-slung, perfectly attuned in their woody surrounds. "We had this concept of the buildings kind of reinforcing a tree-line," says Weisz, "being in the trees and then out in the open."

A rendering of new Conservation, Fabrication, and Maintenance Building.

Image © Storm King Art Center

Similarly camouflaged is the new state-of-the-art technical facility, a 19,375-square-foot building hidden behind a discreet dark-metal facade and partially concealed by a hill. If the welcome sequence is intended to provide more accessibility to patrons, the Construction, Fabrication, and Maintenance Building does the same thing for artists: with ceilings nearly two dozen feet high, and its vast shed-like doors for loading and unloading, the new structure will not only provide more space for repairing existing artworks on campus, but allow Storm King’s onsite residency program to expand, supporting sculptors whose work pushes the limits of the field. "We’re really excited to have a space that feels like it’s up to what we’re asking from our artists," says Nora Lawrence, Storm King’s Artistic Director and Chief Curator. "We can show visitors more of what we can do.

That objective is more important now than ever. When Storm King opened in 1960, large-scale sculpture parks were a relative rarity in the United States; today, they’re not even a rarity in the Hudson Valley, with the 120-acre Art Omi only an hour and a half away in Ghent, New York. To set itself apart, Lawrence’s organization is looking both to open up and step up—and they’re not waiting until the renovation is completed to do it. On some of the recently-cleared acreage provided in the renovation plan, Storm King will be exhibiting an original site-specific piece (in tandem with a larger retrospective) from acclaimed artist Martin Puryear. "We’ve been working with Martin on this 2011," says the curator: collaborating with a team of local artisans, Puryear’s brick sculpture is a preview of the kind of work the institution is hoping to do in the new fabrication building, and it shows their commitment to connecting with their Hudson Valley neighbors, Puryear being one himself. "That’s why the capital project is so important," says Lawrence. "We want this place to provide a public service."

This post has been updated to correct the size of the fabrication building, and the materials used in Puryear’s piece.

Top Photo by Li Rui/Xinhua via Getty Images.

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