Museum Architecture

The Norton Simon Museum is an unconventional building that manages to inspire while melding with its environment. It is a beautiful work of architecture that blends structural passion with the tranquility of its surroundings.

"The Pasadena Art Museum embodies our belief that the space itself, if properly conceived and executed, can be part of the event and experience."
- Statement of Purpose by Ladd & Kelsey

In 1964, the Pasadena Art Museum’s Trustees hired architects Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey to design the building that now houses the Norton Simon collections. The Museum, built on Carmelita Park property, opened to the public on November 24, 1969.

Mindful that the Museum was located near a residential area, the architects created a building that was "residential in atmosphere" but not in scale. They chose to line its curved exterior walls with 115,000 handmade deep umber tiles, designed by artist Edith Heath. As the sun rises and sets, these tiles reveal their delicate tones and highlights. They serve as a reminder of Pasadena’s many Craftsman-style homes as well as the San Gabriel Mountains that tower over the city to the north.

The Museum’s original interior featured spacious curving galleries that facilitated the exhibition of large modern art pieces, which was the original focus of the institution. In 1977, Craig Ellwood and Associates transformed office space into additional exhibition galleries in the lower level.

From 1996 to 1999, the Museum underwent a major interior renovation by Frank Gehry working with executive architect Greg Walsh. The interior walls were reconfigured to better display the varied masterpieces of the Norton Simon collections. The ceilings were raised and the skylights opened, allowing filtered natural light into the galleries. The original dark parquet floors were replaced with French limestone. Two dramatic components were also added: the updated spiral staircase and the stunning Asian galleries lined in red Indian sandstone.

Transforming a simple auditorium into a 290-seat screening venue, Arthur Gensler, Jr. & Associates created a multimedia center, adaptable for musical performances, lectures, seminars and other art-related events. Gensler utilized a warm and inviting palette, along with a poplar acoustical wall treatment and dramatic lighting to create an intimate, yet elegant atmosphere. The new Norton Simon Museum Theater opened in 2000.