Thomas Gilcrease Institute for American History and Art
Housing one of the world’s most comprehensive views of America, the new home for the Gilcrease Museum enables better stewardship of the collection and an elevated visitor experience. Inspired by Osage cultural traditions about humankind’s place within the universe, the theme of connection to nature resonates throughout the design.
City of Tulsa
Cultural, Museums & Galleries, Architecture, Fire Protection and Life Safety Engineering, MEP Engineering
Thomas Gilcrease, a member of the Muscogee Nation, was raised in the Oklahoma Territory and founded a successful oil exploration company. Captivated by Indigenous cultures across the North American Continent, by the American West, and the founding of America, he dedicated much of his wealth to collecting art and objects that reflected the breadth of these diverse histories and cultures, eventually launching a museum on his Tulsa estate.
Gilcrease built the museum in 1949 around an existing 1913 carriage house. The City of Tulsa acquired the collection in the 1950s and continued to operate the museum for decades until 2008 when the University of Tulsa assumed the management of the museum on behalf of the city. By 2019 the museum had been through five expansions, and it became apparent that the aging buildings within the museum could no longer adequately provide the proper environment for the safekeeping of the collection. The city embarked on plans for an entirely new facility that would ensure preservation of the irreplaceable art and artifacts and create a more engaging experience for the community.
The concept for the museum centers upon humankind’s connection with nature and aligns cardinal directions to natural elements and experiences—north/sky, south/earth, east/day, west/night—grounding the visitor experience in these natural phenomena. The lower levels of the building are comprised of earth tones, creating a connection to the ground, while the upper levels utilize sky tones, blending architecture into the atmosphere.
The museum’s entrance guides visitors to the Earth Stair and an expansive view of the Osage Hills that presents the landscape as framed art. A three-story atrium represents the immensity and verticality of sky. The Sun Court Café provides a place of repose reflecting on the journey through the museum’s galleries and framing views to the Gilcrease Mausoleum and the Tulsa skyline.
Outdoor courtyards and gardens reflect the same use of directions and elements, further connecting the museum to the spirit, history and people of its place. The museum’s flow of indoor and outdoor spaces allows for more outdoor programming and more inclusive community events. Reflecting the public’s desire to incorporate the 460-acre grounds in the visitor experience, an amphitheater and a network of trails connect the upper and lower campus, while the long-term master plan envisions activating additional outdoor spaces, such as the Earth Plaza as well as an education center. Working with the larger Tulsa community, the Gilcrease Museum will continue to enhance the relationship among history, art, nature and humankind.