New exhibition building for Mystic Seaport

Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, USA, is well underway with construction of a new exhibit facility that aims to increase the museum’s capacity to host large, innovative exhibits and provide a more robust year-round experience for visitors during the winter months.

Ground was broken on the Thompson Exhibition Building in January 2015. After extensive work on the site and infrastructure improvements, construction of the building began in earnest in October 2015. The 14,000 square-foot structure’s main feature is a flexible, 5,000 square-foot exhibition space with soaring ceilings and demountable walls to accommodate objects of varying size and installations of all types, from watercraft to priceless works of fine art.

The architect’s rendering of the completed Mystic Seaport Thompson Building as seen from the street. The building dramatically changes how a visitor approaches the museum.

In addition, on one end, the building will include a prominent museum entrance, a reception lobby and ticketing center, a retail shop, and visitor amenities. A riverfront gathering room will take up the opposite side of the building. That room can be configured for conferences, additional gallery space, or educational programs, adding to the new building’s versatility. A final component is a wraparound deck that allows visitors to enjoy the riverside setting and serve as a covered viewing deck for a new green.

The building’s contemporary design is a deliberate contrast to the historic architecture on much of the rest of the museum’s grounds. Taking their inspiration from what they call ‘the geometry of the sea’, the architects say the shape of the building evokes the curl of a wave or the spiral shell of the nautilus. The wooden structure of the building, which is comprised of ten huge laminated wood beams and the connecting purlins, will remain exposed with a clear finish. The idea is to give the impression of the interior of the hull of a wooden ship turned upside down.

‘We wanted a design that would be striking, modern, and communicate a sense of the transformation of the museum we are striving to achieve with this project’, said Mystic Seaport president Steve White.

The Thompson Building is the cornerstone of a major project to evolve the north end of the Museum to greatly enhance the quality of exhibition space and to offer a better year-round experience for visitors. What is now called the McGraw Gallery Quadrangle meshes existing buildings and grounds with new architectural achievements. The quadrangle seeks to unify the components of that part of the museum by focusing on their common role as formal exhibition galleries.

A rendering of the side of the building as seen from the quadrangle. The deck will provide an area for visitors to lounge or take in events and performances on the green. 

Underlying the quadrangle is a series of geo-thermal wells that will provide heating and cooling to the Thompson Building as well as an elaborate storm water catchment and filtration system to capture and process runoff before it enters the abutting Mystic River.

The entire project is budgeted to cost $15 million, of which $11.5 million is allocated to the Thompson Building. Fundraising is coming from a combination of public and private sources with a major gift of $2 million from the State of Connecticut announced on January 29, 2016.

The west façade of the Thompson Building under construction at Mystic Seaport.The empty space will be filled with a window and there will be a deck on a level with the top of the concrete foundation.

The Quadrangle opened in June 2015. The Thompson Building is scheduled to open in September 2016.

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