Museum of Fine Arts — West Wing and Renovation


The analysis focuses on the designs of I. M. Pei, including the Extension to the Christian Science Center (1971‐1973) and the West Wing Addition to the Museum of Fine Arts (completed 1981) both located in Boston, MA.


The West Wing Addition program was considered an opportunity to add new structures to the original Museum. Pei introduced new corridors, exhibition areas, and shops, as well as other social amenities (Kay 1). The West Wing Addition was intended to expand the Museum. The Addition program had two phases. The first phase of the design created new structures, and the designer used the second phase to renovate the existing corridors and the installed facilities to improve the environment of the Museum.

In 1963, the Church hired I. M. & Pei Partners to create a master plan that would ensure that the Church had space that is more open, improved housing facilities, convenience, enhanced traffic flow, and ample parking lots for residents and visitors (see appendix for images – figure 1, 2, &3).


As previously noted, both sites are located in Boston, MA. Specifically, the Christian Science Center for the project is located along the Huntington Avenue of the historic Back Bay space in Boston (see appendix- figure 4). Pei provided the ground floor measurement as 694,000 square feet (Christian Science Center 1).

The West Wing Addition is located between Huntington Avenue and the Fenway. The designer noted that the ground floor area measured approximately 121,000 square feet. The Addition to the Museum is found next to and almost within the existing Museum structure (Museum of Fine Arts — West Wing and Renovation 1).


Relative to the Museum, the Christian Church Center had a major expansion plan. For instance, the Extension covered the Sunday School building, also referred to as the Reflection Hall (235 Huntington Avenue), Colonnade building (101 Belvidere Street), the 26-story Administration building (177 Huntington Avenue), and the Reflecting Pool, as well as the public spaces of its open plaza. The Extension integrated these structures as new Church-related structures and significant extensions to the Mother Church Extension. Besides, the master plan introduced an underground parking lot and a large open space within the Christian Church Center complex. Further, the design team included both commercial and private buildings within the site at the Church complex. In this case, Pei wanted to eliminate the issue of overcrowding while improving housing conditions, shopping, traffic, and parking systems within the site.

The West Wing Addition also introduced major, elaborate structures to the Museum. The designer added an elaborate lobby for the entrance, an indoor court with sky lit feature. The plan consisted of multiple public social amenities, including a café, restaurants, a large bookshop, private dining areas, and an auditorium. Pei also included an outdoor sculpture area, an exhibition space, a lecture room, a seminar area, support and administrative locations. The West Wing Addition was a three-story structure of 80,000 square feet (Huxtable 1). The plan was meant to cover two phases in which the first phase, which was a three-year construction program, focused on the expansion of the Museum while the second phase was for renovating and providing more spaces for rearranging collections, new galleries and social locations for visitors.


Pei’s structural design resulted in several buildings for the Extension to account for a mixed-used site. These isolated, but structurally linked buildings, met the needs of the public and users by providing residential, commercial, and administrative facilities. Pei aimed for structural connection to reflect a unified Christian Science Church. The two phases of the program delivered three new structures, underground parking space for about 550 cars and a large landscaped open space along the Avenue. In addition, there was also Portico added to the Mother Church Extension (Boston Landmarks Commission 55). Further, the designer also accounted for the landscaping of the site on Massachusetts Avenue.

The West Wing Addition structure has three prominent features, including a public street-style cafe, a cafeteria and a common dining room (see appendix – figure 6), and a lively bookstore (Kay 1). Pei used the structure to draw the link between architecture and modern art. The Museum is a spatial structure for the public to explore with ease. It is a social hub, which goes beyond the purpose of just seeing art (Huxtable 1). A section of the Addition was generally developed out of an earlier renovation. The design eliminated the façade and introduced this part into the new plan. With a new, elaborate glass wall, the designer carved an enclosed bookstore and seat restaurants, which can be seen from the main corridor. They also lead to another section of the galleria. The design had to incorporate the new and old sections of the Museum. An aluminum structure supports the rising glass roof while the additional wings axially connect the Addition to the main Museum. This design allows visitors to see the tower and a section of the parking space outside. The West Wing Addition and the old sections of the Museum link without confusion. Moreover, the structure is designed to allow plenty of daylight in nearly all sections, including public corridors and galleries. The presence of natural light in the Addition is considered an achievement after many years of darkness. The concrete structure presents a focused, pristine look of modern architecture.


Both structures share some common materials. For instance, metals, concrete, and granite are common in both structures. However, there are notable differences. Specifically, the Extension consists of marbles and limestone while the Addition features Maine granite. Materials are skillfully used to enhance the features of the Extension. The ground-level piers, frameless glazing windows and textural façade, for instance, reflect artistic use of materials (Boston Landmarks Commission 57). Translucent glass panes are fixed in rectangular, arched windows. These windows are decorated with painted materials.

The Addition generally consists of a window, a copper column, and a glass vault just above the atrium (Monchaux 1). The use of materials makes some critics argue that Pei designed a supermarket structure par excellence to serve the public (Kay 1).


Pei focuses on an over-elongated super-space for the West Wing Addition to improve the usability of the Museum. Conversely, the Extension was designed to improve efficiency by integrating major buildings. Pei wanted to achieve enhanced circulation and, therefore, he designed a large open space mistaken for a shopping mall (see appendix – figure 5). The enclosure consists of shops, an auditorium, a bookshop, restaurants, public and private dining areas, and support and administrative facilities.

The Extension, on the other hand, presents different buildings with different roles, such as administrative, commercial, and residential. Overall, Pei uses his designs to achieve functionality while enhancing user efficiency through multiple enclosures.


Several entrances can be found across the Christian Science Center in the west, south, and north, but the main entrance is located at the Original Mother Church.

The West Wing Addition introduces a large entrance that can serve the West Wing Addition without depending on the main Museum entrance. These entrances improve circulation.

Organization of Spaces and Functions

Pei designed the Extension to introduce open spaces that were pleasant to the public at the Church’s headquarters. Besides, the design was also meant to enhance urban regeneration in Back Bay. Pei strived for an elaborate open space, enhanced housing quality, traffic movement, large parking spaces, and a convenient shopping experience for users. The design unified all these aspects within the site.

Previously, it was noted that the Museum had become overcrowded with confusing and dead-end corridors. As such, the designer focused on enhancing circulation by providing elaborate spaces. The large galleria with the natural light increased circulation and exhibition within the Museum. The public and visitors can find bookshops, auditoriums, dining, café, and other facilities within the Addition. These features enhance the user experience of the Museum. In fact, the Addition, considered brightly elegant, functionally reorients the entire Museum to the West Wing.


Originally, the Mother Church had several entrances, but the additional stone Portico improved circulation. In addition, users could now realize improved convenience through eased traffic flow and open spaces.

Pei achieved improved circulation through the design, which focused on removing all confusing, narrow corridors brought about by earlier renovations in the Museum. Pei, a designer known for shopping mall designs, introduced a supermarket per excellence to achieve the needed circulation. Besides, the entrance at the West Wing Addition opens to the parking to improve circulation.

Works Cited

Boston Landmarks Commission. Christian Science Center Complex: Study Report. Boston: Boston Landmarks Commission, 2011. Print.

Huxtable, Ada Louise. “Architecture View: Pei’s Elegant Addition to Boston’s Arts Museum.” The New York Times. 1981. Web.

I. M. Pei & Partners Services. Christian Science Center. n.d. Web.

—. Museum of Fine Arts — West Wing and Renovation. n.d. Web.

Kay, Jane Holtz. “Boston Museu of Fine Arts – West Wing Luminous Yet ‘Exclusive’.” The Christian Science Monitor. 1981. Web.

Monchaux, Thomas De. “Museum of Fine Arts Boston.” The Architect’s Newspaper. 2011. Web.


The Christian Church Center

the Christian Science Publishing Society with green open space.
Figure 1: the Christian Science Publishing Society with green open space.
the Reflecting Pool at the center of the plaza.
Figure 2: the Reflecting Pool at the center of the plaza.
Row of renovated flats on site.
Figure 3: Row of renovated flats on site.

The West Wing Addition to the Museum of Fine Arts (completed 1981)

Museum of Fine Arts Huntington Avenue entrance.
Figure 4: Museum of Fine Arts Huntington Avenue entrance.
Large open space.
Figure 5: Large open space.
Public Café.
Figure 6: Public Café.

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