After decades of neglect, the disused North Shed at the Central of Georgia Railroad depot has been saved by a clever and well-timed intervention. Part of the only extant railroad complex to predate the American Civil War, the North Shed was built in 1853 with bricks hand-fashioned using slave labour. While the former railroad’s adjacent headquarters, an 1856 Greek revival structure, were adopted as the new home of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum and designated a landmark, the North Shed had been left to crumble.
After 10 years of work, SCAD has rehabilitated the North Shed site, expanding its museum into a new building that preserves some of the original structure and recycling some of its materials, like salvaged bricks and the original heart pine timbers. The expansion provides SCAD with 5,950 square metres of new space, nearly quintupling the size of the galleries, and adding 21,560 square metres of useable outdoor space.
Of course, the rehabilitation of historic sites always demands high levels of collaboration. In the case of the SCAD Museum, three architecture firms weighed in, with lead architect Christian Sottile of Sottile & Sottile, architect of record Joe Greco of Lord Aeck & Sargent, and associate architect Neil Dawson of Dawson Architects all working closely with SCAD’s presidents, directors and curators.
The overall strategy focussed on slicing the building with a transparent section and transforming a former train platform into a long, linear gallery. A glass “gasket” connects the new building with the pre-existing galleries. The new structure’s sleek concrete and glass is contrasted with the original’s hand-made masonry; portions of the addition sit just inside the old building’s footprint, girded by the partially demised walls, and supporting what masonry remains with a matrix of helical ties to the new wall.
The resulting building produces a series of “art moments” perfect for the exhibition of art – and of the gallery itself. These include the structural glass bays that frame the original arched masonry opening onto Turner Street like works of art, and the “soaring tower volume,” a 26-metre glass and steel lantern that beckons visitors from across the city.
“Our hope was to help create a flexible, inspirational backdrop for art of all types, in which art can be viewed within a space that is very contemporary, yet somehow historic and very much a part of the City of Savannah,” says Greco. “It’s really a celebration of what art can be and the many forms it can take.”