The Barry Art Museum is a distinctive new building sited at the southern gateway to the Old Dominion University campus. Designed by Saunders + Crouse Architects, the 24,000-square-foot museum is located at 43rd Street and Hampton Boulevard.
The structure features the red-orange brick exterior and cast-concrete trim seen in other structures on campus, but has a forward-looking design that serves its primary purpose: to showcase art. The two-story building's signature element is its 40-foot-tall serpentine façade of vertical channel glass. The wall provides a fitting prelude to the large collection of glass sculpture by important international artists on display inside, in addition to paintings and other media. The translucent glass wall warms and brightens the lobby, balconies and corridors with diffused light. At night, the LED lights imbedded in the glass will give the façade an ethereal glow.
Architect Burrell Saunders, based in Virginia Beach, was influenced in his design by the way the museum's founders, Richard and Carolyn Barry of Suffolk, lived with their art collection. Saunders described their home as "a place where people could interact with art in multiple viewing zones, in a more relaxed way." At the museum, visitors can glimpse art from the lobby floor, then see the works from different vantage points all the way up the curved staircase, which repeats the undulating shape of the glass wall. At the top of the stairs, visitors can peer at art both across and below. Throughout a visitor can discover the ingenuity of the dynamic design, which features an interplay between rectilinear and curvilinear shapes. Past the lobby, the building opens onto a spacious sculpture court flanked by two rectangular galleries that are mirrored on the second floor. The northern "gallery stack" parallels 43rd Street. The architect rotated out the southern galleries at an acute angle, thus widening the corridor. As a result, the open court at the heart of the building became a pleasing space for experiencing monumental works of art, expanding on the Museum's approximately 10,000 square feet of traditional gallery space. Glass doors off the sculpture court allow gatherings to spill outside onto a terrace where curves prevail, from the second-floor balcony to the layout of the aquatic landscape garden that wraps the building. Here, a serpentine glass rail echoes the façade.
Step inside and much of the interior is white, from the poured-concrete terrazzo floors to the walls. Rather than compete with the art, Saunders said, "it really is an environment where the art can be celebrated."