SO – IL cloaks williams college museum of art with gently sweeping rooftop

SO – IL cloaks williams college museum of art with gently sweeping rooftop

a New Purpose-Built Art Museum for Williams College


The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) will finally have a permanent home, designed by award-winning architecture firm SO – IL. The new museum will be a focal point for the college, the town of Williamstown, Massachusetts, and visitors to the Berkshires. Located at the western gateway to the campus, the new WCMA will serve multiple purposes. It will be divided into four program areas: galleries for temporary exhibitions and the permanent collection, a community space for public programming, a hybrid gallery-classroom, and a research center. These distinct areas will be unified through their use of materials and connection to nature, and will all open onto a central gathering space beneath a unifying roof. While the new building is expected to open in 2027, the Williams College Museum of Art plans to showcase the design by SO – IL in an exhibition opening in May 2024.

so il williams collegevisualizations © Jeudi.Wang, courtesy SO – IL and the Williams College Museum of Art



clustered buildings for a porous design


Facing the central lobby of the new Williams College Museum of Art by SO – IL, two gallery wings will be dedicated to showcasing the museum’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. These galleries will offer more than 15,000 square feet of exhibition space, making up 35% of the building’s total area. Meanwhile, the south-facing entrance prioritizes community engagement. Here, visitors will find an auditorium, art studios, and a cafe. The museum’s signature Object Lab, a unique space combining a gallery and a classroom, is situated to the southeast. For students and researchers, the east wing will house a dedicated study center with over 6,400 square feet of space. This area will feature designated areas for studying works on paper, classrooms for object study and digital humanities, storage, and a seminar room.

SO – IL cloaks williams college museum of art with gently sweeping rooftop
SO – IL unveils the design for Williams College’s first purpose-built art museum



the unifying rooftop 


To unify the five clustered volumes of its new Williams College Museum of Art, the team at SO – IL sculpts a sweeping rooftop. The curving surface will be clad in aluminum shingles, and will take shape with gently sloping peaks to echo the ridgelines of the mountains beyond. The roof is designed with deep overhangs, which will shade porches lining the building’s perimeter. This detail will help to regulate the interior temperature, thus reducing energy use. Meanwhile, this roof structure will also incorporate a rainwater retention system.

At the center of the project will be a gardened courtyard. From here, nature will be infused into the galleries while views of the landscape will be framed beyond. The architects highlight the porosity of the design, noting that it works to embed the architecture into the Berkshires landscape.

so il williams college
the new museum will be a cluster of four program areas for the college, community, and visitors



sustainable goals by SO – IL


For SO – IL, sustainability plays a major role in the museum’s design. With a focus on natural light, open spaces, and renewable materials, the team aims to reduce energy consumption by 30% compared to typical art museums. Throughout the project, visitors will encounter the expressive mass timber with its exposed wood ceilings. The exterior walls will be clad in carbon-conscious masonry, creating a cohesive language that will extend from the facade to the interior.

Sustainability extends beyond the building itself. Bioretention basins will capture and treat rainwater, while a cistern will store excess water for later use. The surrounding landscape, designed by Reed Hilderbrand, will be revitalized with native plants, meadows, and gardens. Even the parking area will be integrated into the natural environment, creating a ‘park-in-the-woods’ experience.

so il williams college
visitors will be greeted by gallery wings for the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions



Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg, founding partners of SO – IL say: Designing a college art museum is one of the most exciting tasks we as architects can imagine. Orchestrating synergies between the past, present, and future enables us to create a home where students, faculty, community, and collection converge.

We believe space is as much a teacher as the programs it houses, so we are thrilled to partner with WCMA in designing a building in which different modes of art study and appreciation can intersect, coexist, and reinvent one another.


Walls do not confine the concept of this museum, but rather the inviting gesture of an overarching roof that delineates spaces for these interactions to take place. Contributing to this beautiful landscape, we hope the building will become a welcoming beacon, situated sensitively between campus and the world beyond.’

SO – IL cloaks williams college museum of art with gently sweeping rooftop
the east wing hosts a dedicated study center with classrooms and seminar rooms for students and researchers


spaces for community engagement will include an auditorium, art studios, and a café

SO – IL cloaks williams college museum of art with gently sweeping rooftop
sustainability is a major focus with a blend of natural light, open spaces, and renewable materials


the museum’s roof, inspired by the Berkshires, reduces energy use and incorporates a rainwater retention system

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