Brooks wants 'visual landmark' museum at the river

By Updated: October 22, 2018 10:33 AM CT | Published: October 04, 2018 3:05 PM CT

A "great achievement in museum design." That is what the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art leaders are telling architects they want for the museum’s future home overlooking the Mississippi River in Downtown Memphis.

The museum on Thursday released a request for qualifications to architects for a $105 million building that will rise at Union and Front, where the Fire Department headquarters and city-owned parking garage now stand.

"... The new Memphis Brooks Museum of Art will establish a lasting visual landmark and community legacy for Memphis and the nation,'' the document states under its "Architectural Goals and Objectives" section.

"... The new building will embrace the public realm, speaking to and engaging with its position on the bluff overlooking the river and within the urban fabric; the building will be permeable and have an identity that is inclusive, democratic and accessible," the document states.

Museum leaders also state they want the new Brooks to be "at the forefront of museum design in the service of the exhibition, storage and conservation of the collections through its use of artificial and natural light, materials, scale of spaces, and building systems."

The Brooks board’s architect selection committee will receive architect firms’ responses until Nov. 2 and announce its selection by spring.

Museum leaders project construction of the museum to be completed by 2024.

The Brooks will move its 10,000-piece art collection from Overton Park, where the institution has been housed 102 years.

The new musuem should be 105,000 to 115,000 square feet, compared to the 87,000 square feet now available in the three attached buildings in Overton Park, the request for qualifications states.

In addition, the museum leaders want a minimum of 14,000 square feet of designed exterior space on the riverbluff site.

“The Brooks intends that the new purpose-built museum will represent an achievement in art museum architecture while enhancing the Brooks’ ability to serve its community and the city’s reputation as a center for arts and culture," a museum release on Thursday states.

The board’s committee “will select the design architect who can best achieve the Brooks’ vision of creating a new museum that anticipates the future and is comprehensively inclusive, diverse, and welcoming to all people," the release states.

The release also states that the new museum will:

  • Be a larger, more efficient facility that will elevate the Brooks nationally and internationally with an art museum "as unique as its location," in which the challenging and uplifting elements of its identity are considered in its design;
  • Play a major civic role in the city's reclaiming of the Mississippi River as one of the its greatest resources;
  • Enhance Memphis’ reputation as a center for arts and culture;
  • Provide visitors with experiences unlike any other available in the region through the presentation "of art from around the world, including new art forms, as well as art that tells the story of art-making in Tennessee and the tri-state Delta region."

After releasing the press release on Thursday, museum leaders declined to answer questions from the Daily Memphian.

The move from Midtown to Downtown is related to the city’s Bicentennial Gateway Project. The effort involves renovating and better connecting public spaces and attractions along the Downtown riverfront. The plan includes a pedestrian bridge between Riverside and the south tip of Mud Island and a freshwater aquarium.

The Bicentennial Gateway Project, estimated to cost $225 million, is to be funded through an expanded Downtown Tourism Development Zone. The funds come from increases in taxes within the TDZ district’s boundaries.

The fire department plans to move its headquarters to Thomas at Adams.

Brooks executive director Emily Ballew Neff states in the release, “We look forward to more public engagement sessions in more areas of the city this fall so that we can make sure that the voices of our entire community are heard as we reimagine and rebuild the city’s museum for the next century."

A link to the request for qualifications is posted at Architects with follow-up questions can direct them to consultant Deborah Frieden & Associates at or 510-701-7071.


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Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey covers business news for The Daily Memphian. A Tupelo, Mississippi, native, he graduated from Mississippi State University. He's worked in journalism for 40 years and has lived in Midtown for 36 years.

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