The campus of The Corning Museum of Glass is a unique collection of modern glass architecture. The Museum’s buildings have been influenced by three distinct generations of architects, all of whom shared the goal of creating a fluid space and incorporating glass wherever possible.
The effect is powerful. In 2007 the public voted The Corning Museum of Glass as number 136 on a list of America’s 150 favorite buildings in a poll conducted by the The American Institute of Architects.
Harrison & Abramovitz
In 1951, the original Corning Museum of Glass opened its doors. Wallace K. Harrison, of the architectural firm Harrison & Abramovitz, designed an L-shaped, International Style glass building that included the not-for-profit Corning Museum of Glass, the for-profit Corning Glass Center and the Steuben Glass factory. The design represented the architectural philosophy of the day, creating a light-filled space for displaying objects with similar properties.
The general aesthetic of the original building designed by Harrison is represented by the clean lines and clear functionality associated with the International Style, which developed from the philosophical and theoretical ideas for modern architecture promoted by the celebrated German-American architect Mies van der Rohe. Characteristic architectural elements of this modernist style include a square or rectangular footprint, a simple cubic "extruded rectangle" form, exposed steel and glass construction, windows running in broken horizontal rows forming a grid, and 90-degree façade angles.
These qualities can be seen in the Ben W. Heineman Sr. Family Gallery of Contemporary Glass , which exists in the original Harrison building. Visitors to the campus also will recognize Harrison’s signature architecture in the glass block, vitrolite and glazed brick building, known as “B Building,” that houses The Studio (across from the main Museum building) and in the nearby Corning Incorporated office building (tall black vitrolite and glass structure to the north of the main Museum building).
All of Harrison’s major projects, including LaGuardia Airport, the United Nations building, Lincoln Center, and the original Museum of Modern Art building are distinguished by their rational, straightforward planning and concise functionalism.
The Latvian-American architect Gunnar Birkerts explored a biomorphic, or more organic, modernist style in his 1976 design for a new addition to the Museum, which created much-needed exhibition space to accommodate more visitors. He envisioned the new building, which housed all of the glass collections, as a flowing series of galleries that held the Museum’s research library at its core. The structure curved around the original Harrison building, linking to it with light-filled, windowed ramps.
The exterior of the building reflected Birkerts’ understanding of the circle as an inherent architectural form, reminiscent of academia and solitude, and the exploration of the properties of hot and cold glass. Birkerts described his building as both free flowing and amorphous, similar to when glass is heated at the furnace, and crystalline and structured, as when glass is cooled.
The façade of the building’s undulating perimeter is composed of rolled glass with stainless steel backing. Mirrors beneath the windows allow light into the building indirectly, minimizing glare and heat gain and protecting the fragile objects on display.
The new 68,000-square-foot Museum opened to the public on May 28, 1980, exactly 29 years after its first opening. In 2006, Birkerts was given The American Institute of Architects “25 Year Award” in recognition of the enduring significance of the Museum’s innovative design.
Smith-Miller + Hawkinson
The Smith-Miller + Hawkinson expansion included two prominent additions, one to the east and one to the west of the existing building. The western addition encompassed the Auditorium, Coffee Bar, and glass bridge and passageway (known as the West Bridge) that linked the former Steuben Glass factory to the Birkerts’ building. Also included in the western addition was the Hot Glass Show demonstration stage, where visitors were first able to see live, narrated glassmaking demonstrations.
The eastern addition included a new Admissions Lobby, Café and the Innovations Center with interpretive exhibitry created by the well-known museum design firm of Ralph Appelbaum Associates. As part of the Museum’s overall transformation, the glass collection galleries, housed in the Birkerts’ building, were also entirely renovated. The Intro Theater above the Admissions lobby that was part of the 2001 expansion was revisited by Smith-Miller + Hawkinson in early 2012 and reopened as the Innovations Stage for the Hot Glass Show.
Glass is used throughout the Smith-Miller + Hawkinson additions in a variety of ways. Though made entirely from non-glass-related materials, the Auditorium mirrors glass properties with its pane-like folds and panels. The other extreme of this approach is the Admissions Lobby, with its monumental frameless glass plates, supported by a complex steel structure, that allow light to pour in the building and reflect off of angled glass panes. This area was designed to showcase the unique properties of glass as a material for architecture. The strength and functionality of glass is also highlighted by the inclusion, throughout the building, of glass stairs, freestanding glass walls and glass walkways, which demonstrate the material’s versatility.
The Museum’s expansion and renovation was completed in 2001, resulting in a 117,400 square-foot facility. A redesigned 18,000 square-foot retail space, one of the largest Museum shops in the country, occupies most of the lower level of the Museum.
In recognition of their work at the Museum, Smith-Miller + Hawkinson were given a New York State Merit Award in 2000 by The American Institute of Architects, and an American Architecture Award in 1999 from the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design.
Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
With the 2001 Smith-Miller + Hawkinson expansion and renovation, the Museum’s Rakow Research Library, the library of record for the history and technology of glass, was relocated from the Birkerts’ building to airy new quarters across the Museum campus, in a former office building to the rear of the Harrison-designed B Building.
The architects from Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, responded to a number of criteria for the new Library, including providing different levels of security for its rare collections and designing a series of climatic environments within the building in response to the varying needs of the collections. The building was designed to protect the Library’s holdings from the risks associated with the Museum's location in a flood plain, which was also a primary component of the building designed by Birkerts.
The new Library's architecture, in keeping with the rest of the Museum’s campus, celebrates glass. Glass detailing appears throughout the "building within a building" that houses the collection, including features such as glass stairs and bridges. The south-facing reading areas enjoy a view controlled by a glass sunscreen or brise-soleil. This screen acts as an "environmental sculpture," influencing the climate of the building as well as completely transforming the character of the facade. Its metallic and etched linear patterns interact with seasonal sun angles to maximize visual transparency while excluding direct sunlight from the Library's interior.
Thomas Phifer and Partners
With a growing collection of large-scale contemporary works of art and design in glass, and increasing domestic and international visitation, the Museum announced a $64 million expansion project in 2012. Designed by architect Thomas Phifer and Partners, the 100,000-square-foot Contemporary Art + Design Wing features filtered natural daylight using a sophisticated light-filtering system in the new galleries for the collection of contemporary works in glass. The new wing also features an innovative renovation of the iconic ventilator building of the former Steuben Glass factory into one of the world’s largest facilities for glassblowing demonstrations and live glass design sessions. The project broke ground on June 7, 2012 and opened to the public on March 20, 2015.