Penn State's Palmer Museum of Art breaks ground on new home

July 29, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Construction of the new building for the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State has begun. The museum will directly neighbor the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens in The Arboretum at Penn State, replacing the current facility on campus. The new 71,000-square-foot museum, projected to open in the fall of 2023, will substantially boost accessibility to the University’s art collections for students, faculty, staff and the public.

Seamlessly integrating art, architecture and nature and sited within a landscape similar to those that inspired many of the American works in its renowned collection, the new museum will nearly double the space for the display, study and stewardship of art. The innovative and versatile design features a series of interlocking pavilions clad in regional stone that evokes the geology of central Pennsylvania. In keeping with Penn State’s commitment to environmental sustainability, the new museum will be a high-performance building with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. 

The Palmer Museum of Art has outgrown its current building as its art collection continues to expand, thanks to an increased number of generous philanthropists. To date, more than $20.2 million has been raised in support of the new building’s $85 million budget through Penn State’s current fundraising campaign, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence.”

“Advancing the arts and the humanities is a strategic priority for the University, and through this project it is our desire to elevate Penn State and central Pennsylvania as a hub for the arts,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “This new state-of-the-art facility situated alongside our world-class arboretum will go a long way toward turning that vision into a reality. We are enthusiastic about the opportunities that the new museum presents as a cultural and scholarly resource for the Penn State community and for the positive impact it will have as a destination for visitors to State College and the greater Centre Region.”

The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State is the largest art museum collection between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and the most significant academic art museum in the state of Pennsylvania. A key element of Penn State’s land-grant mission of teaching, research and public service, the Palmer is a vital and accessible cultural resource for University students, faculty, staff and scholars, as well as for all visitors to and from the entire central Pennsylvania region. Through its world-class objects, programs and outreach, the museum is a welcoming, inclusive and vibrant forum for authentic arts experiences and site for cultivating meaningful dialogue about today’s most potent ideas and pressing concerns. The free-admission museum, which has strong and longstanding connections with the wider local community, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022. 

“As a leading arts destination and cultural gateway to the University, the Palmer looks forward to sharing more of its exceptional works and to fostering greatly enhanced opportunities to experience art, nature, connection and inspiration through this visionary new building,” said Erin M. Coe, director of the Palmer Museum of Art. “We are profoundly grateful to the Penn State leadership, the Palmer family and all of the museum’s generous supporters for bringing us to this transformative moment.”

View of the new Palmer Museum of Art from the Overlook Pavilion in the Arboretum.

The new Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State. View from the Overlook Pavilion in the Arboretum.

IMAGE: Architect: Allied Works. Rendering: Courtesy of MIR

Founded in 1972, Penn State’s art museum was renamed in 1993 in honor of James and Barbara Palmer's generous and far-seeing support of the institution. The couple’s numerous donations of art over the years, particularly American paintings, as well as their 1986 leadership gift toward the creation of the current facility, have created a lasting legacy that will be appreciated by visitors, students and scholars for generations to come.

The new building is organized as a series of interlocking pavilions set within the flows of the greater landscape. Visitors will encounter an expanded and serene sequence of galleries, indoor and outdoor courtyards for social gathering, dynamic learning and creative spaces, restorative framed views of the Arboretum grounds and an abundance of natural light. The partnership and proximity of the museum and the Arboretum will afford exciting new joint programmatic initiatives, from shared spaces and public events to scholarly approaches and major outdoor installations. The new Palmer will be the only Big Ten museum fully integrated with a full-scale arboretum. 

Penn State selected Allied Works Architecture to design the new Palmer Museum of Art in 2019. Known for its sensitive and elegant bridging of nature and architecture, Allied Works was chosen based on its deep expertise in the design of arts and educational facilities and for its interdisciplinary and collaborative approach. Other Allied Works museum projects include the Seattle Art Museum, Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

The Palmer Museum of Art holds one of the finest collections of American art in any academic museum in the country. From early republic portraiture and dramatic Hudson River School landscapes to compelling genre scenes and Gilded Age works, the museum’s American art holdings provide keen insight into the nation’s history and culture. The Palmer’s collection is particularly strong in early American modernism, with examples by members of The Eight, the Ashcan School and the Stieglitz circle. Other strengths of the museum’s exceptional and growing collection of more than 10,000 works of art include contemporary studio glass; ceramics from a range of global cultures and eras; African art; Asian art; European Old Master paintings and sculptures; drawings; prints; photographs and other works on paper; and modern and contemporary art — the latter a collecting priority since the museum’s founding in 1972.

The Palmer is dedicated to catalyzing groundbreaking research, scholarship and publications and providing impactful, object-based learning for Penn State and K-12 students. The new museum building will allow the Palmer to foster academic collaborations across campus and strengthen student engagement through spaces like the Teaching Gallery, designed for innovative cross-disciplinary programs.

“The Palmer Museum of Art’s new building will provide countless robust and critically meaningful opportunities for Penn State students, and all visitors, to engage with the arts, design and the natural environment through an extraordinary work of 21st-century architecture,” said B. Stephen Carpenter II, dean of Penn State’s College of Arts and Architecture.

The museum’s current facility is centrally located within the core campus and offers a strategic opportunity to be repurposed as a vibrant student educational space. Details on the highest and best use will be determined by a University task force.

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About Allied Works

Allied Works is an integrated architecture and design practice, whose projects and creative works seek to inspire and elevate the individuals, institutions and organizations it serves. Established in 1994 by Brad Cloepfil and operating from studios in New York and Portland, Oregon, the practice has grown steadily through the completion of major museum and cultural projects, innovative educational facilities, residences and workplaces, all of varied scale, purpose and character, and in locations across the globe. This diversity is by intention, as it presents perspectives from all fields of practice, offers new insights and opportunities and advances the search for innovative solutions. Allied Works explores and integrates all aspects of a building’s environment and expression, from urban design and broader site response to the design of finely tuned interior environments, graphic design, furniture and diverse applied arts pieces.

Notable works include the National Veterans Memorial Museum in Columbus, Ohio, the National Music Centre of Canada in Calgary, Alberta, the Wieden+Kennedy World Headquarters in Portland, Oregon, and the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado. Current projects include a new United States Embassy Compound in Maputo, Mozambique, a new winery in Oregon’s acclaimed Dundee Hills AVA and a major renovation of the Dana Arts Center at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.

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Last Updated July 29, 2021