Remodeling a red-brick warehouse built in 1922, the Museum of the Bible wanted an iconic roof design to draw attention from the National Mall, a few blocks north.

The architects considered an angled rooftop addition that resembled a partially opened book, but eventually settled on a curved design that seems to be rolling up on itself. Some people think it looks like an ancient scroll while others see a hint of Noah’s Ark.

“A scroll or a Torah was part of it,” David Greenbaum, SmithGroup’s lead architect on the Bible project, told the Washington Post in 2014. “We looked at aspects of the Sea of Galilee and the Ark. We weren’t trying to be literal.”

Working with local firm 1ARchitecture, SmithGroup is now designing a $65 million Vision Tulsa project to renovate and expand the Gilcrease Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Western art. It’s too early to predict how the new Gilcrease will look. But last week, as Tulsa officials announced the decision to hire the SmithGroup, one of the firm’s top executives offered a hint.

Principal Jame Anderson pointed to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., as an example of what can be done to improve and enhance an existing structure.

“It is also an existing building that we completely renovated and added an expansion onto,” she said, “and it is one of the most technology-forward museums that exists today.”

Like the Bible Museum’s rooftop, don’t take Anderson too literally. She doesn’t mean Tulsa’s design will end up looking like Washington’s and have a giant scroll and/or ark on the roof. But we might find some clues to how SmithGroup will approach the project.

First of all, in Washington, the architects preserved much of the historic building while adding unmistakably modern additions and interiors. They didn’t try to make the historic parts look new or the new parts look historic.

Secondly, the architects worked closely with exhibit designers to combine cutting-edge technology with ancient artifacts and create an immersive experience for visitors. We might expect similar interactive features to show up in Tulsa.

And finally, in D.C., the architects created a flexible space that can serve a variety of purposes, from housing exhibits to hosting seminars and fostering scholarly research. No doubt Gilcrease will want similar flexibility.

We’ll have to wait to see what it looks like. Tulsa expects the design process to take as long as two years, with two years of construction after that. But putting this design team together is a clear sign that Gilcrease wants a world-class facility.

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Michael Overall


Twitter: @MichaelOverall2

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