About: The Museum's Building

Rejuvenation (1986–2004)

On March 4, 1986, the Museum’s Board of Trustees decided to sponsor a Master Plan Competition among international architects to guide the long-term renewal and expansion of the building into the next century. Fifty-seven firms responded to the invitation to participate, creating a variety of imaginative and thought-provoking designs for the building’s growth and further development. The team of Arata Isozaki & Associates and James Stewart Polshek and Partners submitted the winning Master Plan. Their plan provided a blueprint not only for dramatic new construction but also for necessary renovations and improvements to the existing structure.

The first part of the Master Plan to be executed, the 460-seat Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, designed by Arata Isozaki and James Stewart Polshek and Partners, was dedicated on April 9, 1991, with ceremonies honoring Mr. and Mrs. Cantor, whose generous gift of $3.5 million made the construction of the auditorium possible. The auditorium provided the first formal gathering place in the Museum since the original theater was converted into the Museum’s lobby more than fifty years earlier. The Cantor Auditorium provides an ample stage for performances, lectures, and other events, as well as projection facilities for film screenings.

The Museum's original auditorium, 1919

The Museum's original auditorium, 1919; demolished in 1934

The Cantor Auditorium, 1991

New Cantor Auditorium, 1991

In another phase of construction based on the Master Plan, on November 30, 1993, the Brooklyn Museum opened renovated gallery space on three floors of the Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing. The redesigned galleries comprise 30,000 square feet in the Museum’s west wing, the oldest part of the nineteenth-century landmark building originally designed by McKim, Mead & White. The third floor contains the Museum’s world-renowned collection of ancient Egyptian art, while the fourth and fifth floors house special exhibitions.

The Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Gallery

Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Gallery on the third floor of the Schapiro Wing, 1993

The majestic Beaux-Arts Court had served a multitude of purposes in the course of the Museum’s history, as the home of performances, banquets, other large gatherings, and occasionally exhibitions. But by the 1990s it had become clear that its aging infrastructure was in need of serious attention, especially its enormous skylight, and a renovation project was undertaken. After more than two years of intensive work, a thorough refurbishment of the court was completed in 2001. Its two-story interior was fully renovated and its fixtures upgraded or replaced, making it more fully usable as a venue for public events of all kinds. At the same time, the entire two-and-a-half-acre roof that includes the court’s huge skylight and those of the neighboring galleries was painstakingly rebuilt and returned to a pristine condition.

The renovated Beaux-Arts Court, 2001

Renovated Beaux-Arts Court, 2001

After a multi-year refurbishment project, the Museum’s Libraries and Archives reopened to the public on October 20, 2004, in a greatly enhanced space comprising 7,700 square feet on the Museum’s second floor. The Libraries were completely renovated and now feature new storage facilities with climate control throughout and a dramatically improved reading room. Nearly 900 units of Spacesaver compact shelving, a total of nearly 22,000 linear feet of shelving, were installed in the Library stacks, providing high-density storage and replacing wooden shelving originally installed in 1902, when the Library was first brought into the then newly built Museum.

Library reading room and reception area, 2004

Reception area and reading room of the renovated Libraries and Archives, 2004