The Newark Museum was founded in 1909 by progressive educator and Newark City Librarian John Cotton Dana as a museum of art, science and industry and evolved into one of the top museum educators in the country. It moved in the 1920s to a Beaux Arts building designed by Jarvis Hunt, which remains the only structure on the seven-building campus purpose-built as a museum. By the time Michael Graves met then Director Sam Miller in 1967, the Museum had acquired two former office buildings, the Victorian Ballantine House and its carriage house. Graves’s first master plan, a bold ensemble encircling the Museum’s historic garden with galleries, remained unfunded. In 1982, the Museum acquired an adjacent YWCA designed by George Post and commissioned MGA&D to create a master plan for phased renovation of five interconnected buildings so that it could display its world-class collections and provide educational services to the community.
Except for a new entrance to the South Wing (the former Y), the 1980s plan comprised adaptive re-use and interior renovations that linked the several buildings, routing the public through a series of skylit spaces and passages. The South Wing became an Education Center with a 400-seat auditorium replacing a basketball court, classrooms and arts workshops, a junior museum and a mini-zoo. The central court in the Main Building was reopened to reveal its original skylight and industrial detailing, galleries were refurbished and installed with the permanent collection, and the planetarium was modernized. The North Wing, the former office buildings, became galleries for the Museum’s collections of American Art and, on the top floor, Asian Art including a consecrated Tibetan altar. Most of the work was complete by 1989. The master plan, envisioned to meet the 20-year needs of the museum, was completely built out by 2002 when the Victoria Hall of Science opened.
Any architect would find it extraordinary to have such a long and fruitful relationship with a client, long enough so that MGA&D has renovated our own work several times, including galleries, the auditorium and the planetarium. Other projects included renovations to the historic Ballantine House, historic structures reports for two carriage houses on the campus, and the replacement of the historic Polhemus House with Horizon Plaza, among others. In 2018, the Museum awarded MGA&D with the prestigious John Cotton Dana Commemorative Medal for contributing to the success of the institution and its place in the urban context and community of Newark.