Civitas Designs New North Carolina Museum of Art Park Expansion in Raleigh to Bring Museum into Nature

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A design by landscape architecture and urban design firm Civitas has transformed the North Carolina Museum of Art’s campus in Raleigh with a Museum Park expansion that invites public engagement and won a recent SPACE Award. Two sculptures by Mark di Suvero have joined artwork by Hank Willis Thomas and others – including a temporary Amanda Parer installation – in the park, which has become a top cultural destination for the region.

North Carolina Museum of Art’s Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, newly redesigned by Civitas, provides a series of environments for engaging people with art in nature (photo courtesy of NCMA).

“We are turning the ‘museum’ inside-out,” says NCMA’s Dan Gottlieb.

As you drive along Blue Ridge Road in northwest Raleigh, nearly 800 feet of hand-weathered steel blades slice through taut sloped lawns to mark your entry to the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA). Beyond the steel entry, a towering red metal sculpture draws your eye up and invites you into the newly expanded Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park. The iconic abstract steel piece is "Ulalu," one of two newly installed sculptures by internationally renowned artist Mark di Suvero, perhaps best known for his work at Storm King in New York.

The two di Suvero sculptures, "Ulalu" and "No Fuss," were installed in December at NCMA's newly transformed 164-acre Museum Park. Designed by Denver-based urban design and landscape architecture firm Civitas, the park expansion presents a new public identity for the Museum, distinguishing it as a regional cultural destination – and recently won a SPACE Award from Triangle Business Journal.

Created with an extraordinary attention to craftsmanship, the Civitas design extroverts the museum experience into the landscape, and transcends traditional sculpture parks, connecting people, art and nature in fresh ways. Park features reimagine the quality of the Museum’s interior galleries outdoors, including such carefully articulated elements as the 600-foot elegantly curving ipe-wood bench that surrounds the manicured central lawn known as the Ellipse – and the appeal of a gathering of red umbrellas atop tables and chairs at the apex of the site, with distant views of the rolling meadow and hardwood forests.

But the beauty is far from static: in November, five giant inflated and illuminated rabbits – a temporary installation of Australian artist Amanda Parer’s "Intrude" – arrived on the Ellipse, the focus of 12 days of lively events from yoga to “Hoppy Hours.” Two permanent installations,"Ernest" and "Ruth," cartoon speech bubble-shaped sculptures by Hank Willis Thomas, welcome visitors to sit and interact with the art and each other. To facilitate that mix of art viewing and participation, Civitas helped to reimagine the NCMA’s Park as a framework of formal and informal environments that “invite a variety of experience and engagement of all the senses,” says Civitas founding president Mark Johnson.

In the Wave Garden, 20 mounded contemporary gardens planted with more than 150,000 plants create flowing color and texture interlaced with paths and benches. A broad Promenade reveals the surrounding North Carolina landscape as an ever-changing art gallery. Two lawns flanked by 10 raised and tilted gardens – the Parterre Lawn and Gardens – provide installation and event space connecting the Wave Garden and Ellipse to Blue Ridge Road, and tree-lined parking and a new entrance update the Museum’s street face, the whole working to unify the 164-acre campus.

The purpose of the series of new spaces remains open-ended by design. “By giving definition to the Park, we enable new programs, art events and public and private gatherings where the Museum community can invent new ways of rethinking what an art museum can mean to them,” says Johnson. In turn, that activation serves as a draw for new and different audiences at a time when museums “are looking for paths to stay relevant in the age of info-distraction,” says Dan Gottlieb, NCMA director of planning, design and the Museum Park, who led the $13 million project for the Museum.

“We are turning the ‘museum’ inside-out,” Gottlieb says, explaining that the Park and NCMA campus design “is guided by a philosophy that a public museum can move beyond the traditional boundaries of collection, preservation and presentation of art” – a philosophy that includes fostering community interaction and public health. The forward-looking approach also encompasses environmental sustainability – and social healing for a landscape with a grim history that includes incarnations as a youth detention center and state prison farm. The new Park intentionally integrates a brick smokestack from the former prison as a historical icon of the site’s transformation.

“Moving the Museum into nature provides a memorable and ever-changing means of connecting to art and culture, as well as a social experience that resonates in today’s world,” Johnson says. And the more than 25,000 people who visited during the November events surrounding the "Intrude" installation give credence to the idea – including with in-the-moment posts on social media as simple as one visitor’s tweet stating, “This feels like home.”

The North Carolina Museum of Art’s permanent collection spans more than 5,000 years, from ancient Egypt to the present, making the institution one of the premier art museums in the South. The Museum’s collection provides educational, aesthetic, intellectual and cultural experiences for the citizens of North Carolina and beyond. The 164-acre Museum Park showcases the connection between art and nature through site-specific works of environmental art. The Museum offers changing national touring exhibitions, classes, lectures, family activities, films and concerts.

The Museum opened West Building, home to the permanent collection, in 2010. The North Carolina Museum of Art, Lawrence J. Wheeler, director, is located at 2110 Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh. It is the art museum of the State of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, governor, and an agency of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

About Civitas:
Founded in 1984 with the core purpose of “creating healthier cities,” Denver-based Civitas, Inc., is an idea-based practice of urban designers, architects and landscape architects engaged in strategic planning for urban change and project design for built works. A consultancy and a design studio, Civitas advises on a wide range of strategies for re-imagining urban life and places, working in U.S. cities coast to coast and around the world. For additional information visit

Contact: Anne McGregor Parsons, Word PR + Marketing, anne(at)wordprmarketing(dot)com, 303.777.7667

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Anne M. Parsons
Civitas, Inc.
since: 03/2010
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