Sept 15, 2008
-By Katie Weeks, Photography by Wyatt Gallery and Kevin Reeves
One field, three days, 32 musicians, more than 400,000 peoplethe
Woodstock Music and Art Fair was a cultural phenomenon that continues
to entice people today. But what was it, exactly, that drew thousands
to this bucolic site in Bethel, N.Y., in August 1969? And what is it
that, nearly 40 years later, continues to draw pilgrims (albeit in
smaller numbers)? The new Museum at Bethel Woods, designed by
Westlake Reed Leskosky (WRL) in conjunction with exhibit designers
Gallagher & Associates, seeks to help answer these questions.
For nearly 30 years after the festival, Woodstock site visitors were
met with little more than a simple monument and rolling fields. In
1996, however, things began to change. Recognizing the draw of such a
storied locale, local entrepreneur, cable television pioneer, and
philanthropist Alan Gerry saw an opportunity. "I was trying to create
something that would bring back some of the attractiveness of the
area that was a very popular resort area in the '30s, '40s, and '50s.
I wanted to do something for the community where I had grown up,"
says the Gerry Foundation founder.
What first started out as a plan for the Bethel Woods Performing Arts
Center soon morphed into the more cohesive, $100-million Bethel Woods
Center for the Arts comprising not only a 15,000-seat outdoor
performing arts venue, but also an elaborate museum dedicated to both
the phenomena of Woodstock and the events of the decade superceding
it. Recognizing that the performing arts center would be seasonal,
Gerry sought to add a site component that would draw smaller crowds
year-round. "We noticed that people would come to the site just to
view it or walk on the land. We thought that putting an information
center there would make it more welcoming, and that developed into
the museum. It's a serious building that tells the story of the
1960s, which was rich with historical events."
On the exterior, the museum was crafted with a specific sense of
regionality and a materials palette of warm woods, copper, and stone
that draws from the land. These materials not only connect the
architecture to the site, but also allowed the project to use local
craftsmen. "We tried to break down the scale as much as possible and
make the structures in a way they could be built by the local trades
without too much heavy equipment," says Paul Westlake, AIA, principal
at WRL. "A lot was crafted by hand. The work is connected to the past
because you sense the hand of the people who made it." Definitely not
small scale are the soaring interiors of the museum's column-free
lobby and events gallery. The stunning timber ceiling draws
inspiration from old, round stone barns that the Shakers constructed
throughout the Northeast and the traditional architecture of the
Catskills. The museum's laminated wood arches (a structural marvel
that in one spot spans 110 ft.) also reference the original tents and
wood-framed structures that were on site during the Festival, while
windows are placed to allow intermittent views to the landscape,
blurring the lines between indoors and out.
Programmatically, the exhibits creatively recall the festival and the
events that lead to it through a variety of media. "When you're
talking about an event that had lots of performances, activity,
music, and sound, the moment of being there is the critical thing to
express, and that's hard to do. You're not recreating the event, nor
can you pretend you have the ability to recreate 500,000 people in a
field in upstate New York," says Dr. Dennis Barrie, director of
cultural planning and associate at WRL. "But you at least want to
give people some sense of why the music was so powerful and moving
and what is was like to be in the midst of all those people." Adds
Phil LiBassi, AIA, principal at WRL: "It's a fine line to walk
without glamorizing it. The story is what allowed an event like that
To help tell this story, the 6,728-sq.-ft. permanent exhibit gallery
hosts 20 films (including "The Festival Experience," a four-screen,
270-degree immersion of the festival tucked under the 60-ft. pinnacle
of the museum, and "The Bus," a psychedelic coach whose windshield
transforms into a screen showcasing many cross-country journeys to
Woodstock.) More than 2,000 music, film, and photographic elements
are used, with 330 photos reprinted on panels and murals.
Alongside the permanent exhibit space, the museum houses classrooms,
a 1,252-sq.-ft. museum shop, a Museum Bistro, a 4,340-sq.-ft. events
gallery that can support a 400-person reception, and a 1,000-seat,
Roman-style outdoor amphitheater. "We wanted spaces that would draw
people in," says Patrick Gallagher. "If I've been there a couple of
times, what's going to draw me back?" In the end, the exhibits are
meant to start a conversation, not dictate the past. "A museum's job
is not to tell an encyclopedic story, but to go through the main
ideas and give you an emotional connection," says Gallagher. "You
have to open up the idea. It's not your job to tell the full breadth
of the story, but to open the debate and discussion." With this in
mind, the museum is tailored so that visitors end their time in an
area of reflection that invites them to leave their own story about
how Woodstock and the 1960s affected them. The result, some might
say, creates a true mix of peace, love, and understanding.
Project: The Museum at Bethel Woods. Client: Gerry Foundation, Bethel
Woods Center for the Arts. Architect, interior designer,
structural/mechanical/electrical engineer: Westlake Reed Leskosky.
Exhibit Designer: Gallagher & Associates; Patrick Gallagher,
principal; Rob Malootian, senior designer; Carl Rhodes, Hernán
Saurit, designers; Vassiana Gargallo, graphic designer; Cheryl Tlam,
senior graphic designer; Ray Heinsman, detailer. Construction
manager: Suffolk Construction. Lighting designer: George Sexton
Associates. Acoustician: Jaffe Holden Acoustics, Inc. Furniture
dealer: Office Furniture Partnership. Lighting: Ted Mather Lighting
Design. A/V systems designer: Romeantics Productions. Content
consultants: Dennis Barry, Robert Santelli. Writer/researcher:
History Associates Inc. Owner's rep: Zubatkin Owner Representation.
Computer interactives: Second Story Interactive Studios. Film
producers: Cortina Production, The History Channel; Northern Light
Production. Exhibit fabrication: Hadley Exhibits Inc. A/V systems
integration: McCann Systems. Lighting integration: PRG. Photographer:
Kevin G. Reeves (exterior); Wyatt Gallery (interior).
Wallcoverings: Versa Contract Wallcoverings. Paneling: Custom Cherry.
Paint: Benjamin Moore, Cabot. Laminate: Wilsonart. Dry wall: National
Gypsum; Gold Bond. Fabric Wrapped Acoustical Panels: Decoustics with
Knoll Textiles. Special Surfacing: Quartz: Zodiac by Dupont. Solid
Surfacing Material: Corian by Dupont, Gibralter by Wilsonart.
Masonry: Federal Block. Flooring: PermaGrain. Carpet/carpet tile:
Mohawk Broadloom Carpet. Carpet fiber: Colorstrand Fiber. Carpet
backing: Woven backing interlaced into pile. Ceiling: USG "Frost"
with Clima Plus. Acoustical Ceilings/Suspension Grid: USG. Lighting:
Alera-Lighting; Alkco; American Glass Light; Bega; Belfer; Cole;
Columbia' Edison Price Lighting; Elliptipar; Kenall; Prescolite;
Rambusch Lighting. Task Lighting: Prescolite, Columbia, Alkco. Doors:
Pella; Eggars; Curries; Cornel. Door hardware: Select Products
Limited; Stanley; Hagar; PBB Inc.; Corbin Russwin; Schlage; Von
Duprin; Adams Rite; Rockwood Mfr'g; Norton; National Guard Products;
Rocky Mountain. Window frames: Pella. Shutters: Summit Hill
Plantation Shutters; Solar Shades: Lutron/VIMCO. Railings: NS
Associates. Clerical workstations and seating, administrative desks
and seating, lobby seating, library and conference seating and
tables, seating upholstery, wood casegoods, files: Kimball Office.
Administrative and conference room upholstery: Momentum Textiles,
Acacia, Kimball Office. Lounge seating: Martin Brattrud. Cafeteria,
dining, seating: Kimball Office, KI. Auditorium seating/Upholstery:
Irwin Seating Company; Dant Clayton Corp., ARC-COM. Display
cases/vitrines: Hadley Exhibits, Inc. Other seating: Martin
Brattrud. Upholstery: Arc-Com Fabrics, Maharam, Kimball Office. Other
tables: Krug, Nucraft, KI, Kimball Office. Receptacles: Victor
Stanley. Architectural woodworking: BOJ; Leby Fixtures & Interiors
Ltd. Cabinetmaking: BOJ; Leby Fixtures & Interiors Ltd. Signage:
Bunting. Elevators: Thyssen Krupp. HVAC: Reiner. Fire safety:
Sprinklers: Sullivan Fire Protection Corp. Security: Bosch. Building
management system: Johnson Controls. Plumbing fixtures: Assorted;
Flush valves by Sloan.
Location: Bethel, NY. Total floor area: 40,000 sq. ft. permanent
immersive exhibition space; 132-seat theatre, classrooms; retail
shop; special events gallery; administrative office; 4,340 sq. ft.
events gallery; museum bistro, outdoor museum terrace; 1,000-seat
terrace stage. No. of floors: Two. Average floor size: Overall
building: 20,000 sq. ft. Capacity crowd: 350, first level exhibit;
263, lower level Exhibit; 132-seat theatre; 19, lower level administration