Inside the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA), the light of day and lush surrounding fields have a presence unusual in institutional galleries for art. Overhead, hundreds of elliptical oculi in long parallel vaults bathe the museum interior in even, full-spectrum daylight, modulated by layers that filter out damaging rays. In this gently luminous setting, against pure white walls, the art--including a masterful Giotto altarpiece--takes on heightened immediacy and vividness. A departure from traditional hierarchies, the museum is, in some respects, a single 65,000-square-foot room. Within this spatial continuum, a succession of wall planes, many freestanding without reaching the ceiling, delineate separate galleries. Instead of fully enclosed rooms, each gallery has at least one open corner, inviting fluid movement. Museumgoers also float freely from indoor galleries to outdoor sculpture courts or gardens and back in again. Because NCMA has no entry fee, it could forego formal checkpoints--transcending any need for a grand and controlling front hall.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1953, Thomas Phifer attended Clemson University, graduating with a Master of Architecture. He founded Thomas Phifer and Partners in 1996, after working previously as senior design partner at Richard Meier & Partners, and as a senior design associate at Gwathmey Siegel & Associates.