The New MFA Overview

At the core of the MFA’s transformational building expansion and renovation is a new wing for the Art of the Americasand the glass-enclosed Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro FamilyCourtyard.  Designed by Foster + Partners (London), the project will enrich the ways visitors encounter the MFA’s great works of art and increase space for its encyclopedic collections, special exhibitions, and educational programs.  The plan reaffirms the architectural legacy of the Museum’s 1907 design created by architect Guy Lowell, who envisioned a strong north-south axis for the building.  Foster + Partners has reestablished this central axis, which brings visitors back to the heart of the MFA and improves navigation throughout the entire Museum. 

The wing for the Art of the Americas will dramatically enhance the MFA’s ability to exhibit and interpret its collection of art from North, Central, and South America created over three millennia, including iconic works representing the United States, from the birth of the nation through the third quarter of the 20th century.  Adjacent to it is the Shapiro Family Courtyard, a light-filled, grand public space that links the new wing to the historic Museum building (which opened on Huntington Avenue in 1909).  As a result of this new construction, the MFA’s net square footage increases from 483,447 to 616,937 square feet.  In addition to this expansion, much of the existing Museum was renovated, including both of its historic entrances, as well as the visitor center, galleries throughout the MFA, and conservation labs.  The components of the project are: 



Art of the Americas Wing: Both beautiful and functional, the 121,307-square-foot wing features a central building flanked by two pavilions, one north and one south.  The wing incorporates large expanses of Seele glass from Germany, making the MFA more open and welcoming to the surrounding community, as well as Deer Isle granite from Maine, the same used in the Museum’s 1909 Beaux Arts building.  For the first time since the Museum’s founding in 1870, the art of all of the Americas—North, Central, and South—is presented together.  The addition of the wing, which devotes 51,338 square feet to gallery space, allows for more than 5,000 works from the collections to be on view, more than double the number of American objects previously displayed.  Works of art in all media—paintings, sculpture, furniture, decorative arts, works on paper, musical instruments, textiles and fashions—are shown on four floors in 53 galleries, which include nine period rooms, four Behind the Scenes galleries, and rotating galleries for light-sensitive works, such as prints, photographs, and textiles. 

Arranged chronologically, works from ancient American, Native North American, and 17th-century collections are located on Level LG (Lower Ground); 18th-century art from the Colonial period and early 19th-century art on Level 1; 19th- and early 20th-century art on Level 2; and 20th-century art through the third quarter of the 20th century on Level 3.  The wing includes the Barbara and Theodore Alfond Auditorium, a 150-seat state-of-the-art venue for films, concerts, and lectures, which measures 2,128 square feet and is located on Level G (Ground).  Adjacent to it are two studio art classrooms and a seminar room.  Additionally, the wing incorporates Museum offices and meeting rooms on the top two levels of the pavilions.

The glass walkways on the upper levels of the wing offer commanding views of downtown Boston.  Works of art have been placed along these walkways on various levels of the wing, including Young Columbus (1871) by Giulio Monteverde on Level 1, Young Diana (1923) by Anna Hyatt Huntington and Bacchante and Infant Faun (1893, cast in 1901) by Frederick MacMonnies on Level 2, and Venus (1977–78) by Fernando Botero on Level 3.

Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard: Measuring more than 12,000 square feet and 63 feet high, the enclosed courtyard is a dynamic architectural space where visitors can meet, relax, and dine in the New American Café.  It also serves as a venue for special events.  Constructed almost entirely of glass and supported by expanses of steel, this soaring courtyard is accented with an interior wall of ivory Crema Luna limestone from France, and floors of Kuru Grey granite from Finland.  Two sculptures, the monumental Artificial Rock #85 (2005) byZhan Wang and Zig VIII (1964) by David Smith, adorn the space, which is bordered on two sides by open-air landscaped areas that join the courtyard and the historic building, enhanced with plantings and additional sculpture.  The courtyard serves as an elegant link between the new wing and the Sharf Visitor Center in the main Museum building.  It also provides access to Art of Europe galleries to the north, where an arrangement of monumental Meissen porcelain birds stands at the entrance to a newly created gallery of 18th-century European decorative arts and sculpture.  Across the courtyard to the south are the Art of the Ancient World galleries, where the Colossal statue of King Menkaura (Mycerinus) welcomes visitors to Old Kingdom Egypt.

Ann and Graham Gund Gallery:  The newly designed gallery is dedicated to the Museum’s special exhibitions, which showcase art from all cultures and time periods.  The space incorporates asquare, open plan designed for maximum flexibility for the display of artwork, and features moveable walls and a state-of-the-art lighting system.  The Gund Gallery measures approximately 8,300 square feet and nearly 16 feet high.  It is located on Level LG beneath the courtyard and is accessible via stairways and elevators at both the east and west sides of the courtyard.  Adjacent to it is the Gallery Shop.



Jean S. and Frederic A. SharfVisitor Center:  Located at the heart of the MFA is the visitor center, the MFA’s information hub, where visitors can learn more about the Museum and its programs.  The visitor center is nearly 5,000 square feet and includes a 40-foot-long information desk staffed by volunteers.  LCD screens highlight the Museum’s current exhibitions and daily programs.  A bank of computers allows visitors to explore the MFA’s website, , including its collections database, as well as access information about area destinations, visit news sites (such as, and check travel and transportation sites (such as Massport and Google maps). MFA maps in English and seven foreign languages—Chinese, German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Italian, and Russian—and brochures about MFA programs are also available. MFA Guides are available for rental at the Sharf Visitor Center and at ticketing desks.

Entrances:  Both of the Museum’s historic entrances have been redesigned and renovated.  The south-facing Huntington Avenue Entrance on the Avenue of the Arts, and the north-facing State Street Corporation Fenway Entrance draw visitors through the Museum’s central spine, reinforcing the strong north-south axis of the MFA’s original master plan designed by architect Guy Lowell more than a century ago.  The fully accessible Fenway entrance (1915), named the State Street Corporation Fenway Entrance, reopened (June 2008) after being closed for nearly three decades.  Its dramatic façade, featuring 22 Ionic columns, overlooks the Back Bay Fens portion of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace.  Landscaping has been enhanced with fountains and sculptures of two monumental bronze baby heads, titledDay andNight (2008), created by contemporary Spanish artist Antonio López García.  The State Street Corporation Fenway Entrance also features a ticketing desk in its foyer.  The Huntington Avenue Entrance—where Cyrus Dallin’s bronze sculpture, Appeal to the Great Spirit (1909), has been welcoming visitors for nearly a century—was renovated in 2009.  This renovation resulted in a sweeping, doubled-in-size granite plaza, named the Bank of America Plaza on the Avenue of the Arts, new landscaping, a fully accessible entrance, and inside, an elegant foyer, accented with marble and bronze sculpture.  To the right of the foyer, ticket desks are located in the Matthew and Edna Goodrich Brown Lobby, which leads to a grand staircase and John Singer Sargent’s renowned murals adorning the Museum’s rotunda and colonnade.  To the left of the foyers is the Museum’s new Huntington Shop.  On the west side of the Museum, the doors to the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art recently opened in September 2010 as the school and community group entrance.  They lead into theCommunity Arts and SMFA Gallery, which also opened in September. 

Galleries: Numerous galleries have been renovated as part of the building project.  Thus far, new galleries in the main Museum building include the Herb Ritts Gallery for photography, Clementine Haas Michel Brown Gallery for prints and drawings, Italian Renaissance Gallery, Carol Vance Wall Rotunda, and Europe: 1800–1900/Images of Antiquity and the Renaissance Gallery.  In the Evans Wings, the following galleries have been renovated: the Charlotte F. and Irving W. Rabb Gallery for 20th-Century Art, Frances Vrachos Gallery for European (pre-1800s) works on paper, Mary Stamas Gallery for European (post-1800s) works on paper, the Angelica Lloyd Russell Gallery for 18th-Century European Art, 18th-Century British Portraits Gallery, and Hartman Galleries/Tapestries.  Renovations in the George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing include the Greek and Roman Sculpture Gallery, Origins of Ancient Egypt Gallery, Egyptian Old Kingdom Gallery, Egyptian Old Kingdom Funerary Gallery, and Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery for Egyptian Middle Kingdom Funerary Arts. 

New galleries planned for 2011 include the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery for jewelry in the main Museum building, and the Daphne and Peter Farago Gallery, Elizabeth and Woody Ives Gallery, Catherine and Paul Buttenwieser Gallery, Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, John F. Cogan, Jr. and Mary L. Cornille Gallery, and Richard and Nancy Lubin Gallery, all in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.

Additional Features:  Renovations have also included the creation of two new conservation labs, the Virginia Herrick Deknatel Paper Conservation Laboratory and the Gabriella and Leo Beranek Textile Conservation Laboratory; an expanded loading dock; improvements to roadways and parking areas; and increased landscaping surrounding the Museum.



The Museum’s expansion and renovation was designed by Pritzker Prize-winners Foster + Partners (London), an international studio for architecture, planning, and design.  The firm worked with the Boston-based design firm CBT/Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc., the executive architect, and John Moriarty & Associates of Winchester, general contractor.



New landscaping designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd., of Seattle, WA, has resulted in the planting of 50 trees and more than 1,000 holly bushes, connecting the Museum to Olmsted’s nearby Emerald Necklace.  Plantings are low maintenance, non-invasive and require minimal irrigation, and the MFA uses all-organic fertilizers, environmentally friendly and biodegradable organic ice melt, and rain sensors for the lawn irrigation systems. 

The MFA has implemented a variety of systems to reduce its carbon footprint.  The energy performance of the existing building has been reduced by 10%, and the new wing uses 20% less energy in comparison to a similar building of this type in the United States.  To reduce energy demands across the MFA, all non-exhibition spaces, including the Shapiro Family Courtyard,use high efficiency heating and air-conditioning equipment (utilizing outside air for cooling and ventilation 33% of the year).  To minimize the thermal transmission of the façade in the new wing, triple glazing is provided in core areas including the gallery windows and skylights, which helps to reduce the demand for mechanical ventilation.  A carefully designed energy efficient lighting strategy has been created to accommodate the lighting requirements for each gallery, including natural light (though vertical side glazing), reducing artificial lighting demands, and also increasing the visual connection between the MFA and external environment as well as the use of high-level diffusing roof lights.  Other environment efforts include a significant recycling plan, reduction of water consumption, and an improved sewage network.  The MFA has also taken a leadership role in developing a new museum industry standard for temperature and humidity levels required for conservation. 



Navigation surrounding the Museum has been significantly improved with the creation of new walkways and roadways.  Granite sidewalks have been installed along the Huntington Avenue entrance, and renovations to the State Street Corporation Fenway Entrance in 2008 included new granite walkways and new sidewalks.  To the west of the MFA, along Museum Road, improvements include the widening of the road, allowing for two-way vehicular access; the creation of new sidewalks, curbs, and better crosswalks, as well as bike lanes in both directions.  In the future, renovations to the walkways and roadways on the east side, along Forsyth Way, include a new sidewalk, new crosswalks, and the addition of bike lanes in both directions. 



The Museum’s $345 million building project, which broke ground in 2005, was supported by a fundraising campaign that raised $504 million for new construction and renovations, endowment of programs and positions, and annual operations. The MFA is one of the largest private non-profit museums in the United States, receiving less than one percent of its operating budget from government sources.  The Museum depends on donations as well as revenue from admission, parking, retail, and restaurants for its daily operations. 


In September 2011, the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art will open.  Designed by I.M. Pei in 1981 as the Museum’s West Wing, it will feature contemporary works, which will be on view in seven newly created galleries as well as the existing Foster Gallery.