June 15, 2015
The South Carolina State Museum recently received six awards for its major $23 million “Windows to New Worlds” renovation and expansion that opened in August 2014. The industry-leading awards recognize the State Museum’s project for its extensive historic preservation efforts, unique and innovative design, and outstanding construction leadership.
As the state’s largest and most comprehensive museum, the South Carolina State Museum offers a unique, entertaining and educational experience to visitors throughout its 225,000 square foot facility located in the heart of downtown Columbia’s Congaree Vista. The State Museum is housed in one of its greatest artifacts, an 1894 old textile mill full of character and charm. In addition to beautiful meeting spaces throughout the facility, guests can explore outer space in one of the largest planetariums in the Southeast, watch an interactive 4D movie and look through a vintage telescope in a one-of-a-kind observatory.
Through private and public funding, State Museum leadership and industry-leading firms, the State Museum successfully transformed its nationally registered historic facility into a world-class attraction with one of the largest planetariums in the Southeast, a state-of-the-art observatory and the only permanent 4D theater in the state. JRA worked with the State Museum to develop a thematic visitor experience that would embrace and highlight the history of the mill.
The strategic collaboration of many individuals and organizations helped solidify a high-quality project that has received the following 2015 awards.
“These awards are a direct result of a quality project made possible by the hard work of many stakeholders and an outstanding design and implementation team,” said State Museum executive director Willie Calloway. “We are proud to have successfully transformed our 19th century mill building into a true cultural destination.”
In addition to JRA, the State Museum collaborated with a variety of industry-leading consultants. Awarding-winning architects, Clark Patterson Lee and Watson Tate Savory, took their cue from the thematic design with an approach that both reinforced the rich historic fabric of the original structure and introduced additions that were contemporary yet sensitive to the mill in scale and rhythm. The museum then brought on industry-leading experts to construct the project, including Gilbane Construction (general contractor), Evans & Sutherland (planetarium contractor) and SimEx-Iwerks (4D theater contractor). The project preservation, oversight and review were provided by South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Historic Columbia and the City of Columbia.
Although the project idea was formed in 1997, it was not until 2002 that serious deliberation, fundraising and planning began. The State Museum explored several design concepts and did extensive benchmarking, including a trip made by museum executive director Willie Calloway to the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, which was the inspiration for the planetarium’s glass cube design. The final design plan focused on a historically-sensitive renovation, including repurposing existing spaces, uncovering and rehabilitating original interior features and adding modern additions to the exterior of the museum.
“Our goal was to embrace the mill and bring its original character back to life,” said Calloway. “We paid close attention to every detail – from ripping carpeting out and refinishing 100 year-old wood floors, to bringing in reclaimed historic mill flooring, to removing sheet rock to expose the mill’s original brick interiors. We also made sure any added features into the mill space complimented our vision of restoring and celebrating the historic mill building.”
In 2012, the State Museum broke ground on the 75,000 square feet “Windows to News Worlds” project to renovate and expand the Columbia Mills Building, the home of the State Museum and a former textile mill listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the planetarium, observatory and 4D theater, the project consisted of adding a new telescope gallery, lobby, store, meeting and office spaces, and student entrance and lunch room.
The new expansion is having a positive cultural tourism and economic impact and is providing many new opportunities to educate and inspire South Carolina students through innovative programming that focuses onscience, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
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