Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Project Name: Museum of Fine Arts
Project Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Project Type: Cultural, Community and Education
Project Size: 103,000 sq. meters 

Description and Architectural History | Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, founded in 1870, is the world’s 20th largest art museum in terms of its public gallery space. It represents one of the most comprehensive collections in the Americas, containing 8,161 paintings and more than 450,000 pieces of art. It also houses the world’s greatest Japanese art collection outside Japan, assembled in the late 19th century. Another notable part of the Japanese collection is the Buddhist statues. 

Guy Lowell was commissioned to create a museum that could be established in phases when funding was sufficient. Through its neoclassical style of architecture, the building gives a monumental look. The first phase of Lowell’s design was finished two years later. It had a 500-foot (150-meter) granite façade with a large rotunda. The rotunda murals were painted by renowned artist John Singer his Sargent. The large columns with the Corinthian capitals on the main entrance along Huntington Avenue are particularly captivating. 

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New MFA building in the Fenway, c.1913–1918 _©

Renovations and Additions

Since then, the MFA has had several considerable accompaniments since it first opened its doors in 1909 on its current Huntington Avenue location, most recently the 80,000 square-foot West Wing designed by I.M. Pei, a previous Pritzker laureate, and completed in 1981. 

Masked in a granite exterior, the new West Wing provided room for special exhibitions and an auditorium, among other accommodations, as well as a new entrance right close to a parking area. The new wing was designed in such a way that it provided a continuous spiral for circulation by adjoining the old building on multiple floors. 

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Museum of Fine Arts, West Wing plan_©I.M. Pei Foundation
Museum of Fine Arts, West Wing_©I.M. Pei Foundation

Art of the Americas Wing | Museum of Fine Arts Boston

“The MFA is more than a great cultural institution – it is the catalyst for the rejuvenation of an entire neighbourhood in Boston. Over time the Museum had lost its connection to the Back Bay Fens and the beautiful landscape of Frederick Law Olmsted’s ‘Emerald Necklace’. In restoring Lowell’s original plan and in opening up and reasserting the grand Fenway entrance, we have rediscovered this link. At the same time, we have drawn the landscape deep into the heart of the building and along Huntington Avenue. The result is a more legible museum that will create new connections between the park, the Museum, and the local community.” – Norman Foster.

The latest Art of the Americas Wing, featuring artwork from North, South, and Central America, was added as a restoration component. Foster & Partners, based in London, designed the new wing and surrounding Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard in a contemporary style. 

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Art of Americas Wing_©
Museums of the World: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - Sheet5
Aerial View of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston_©

The new information centre in the core of this axis is where visitors begin their tour of the galleries. A freestanding glazed structure was inserted between the building’s two main sections to construct the Art of the Americas Wing. The new wing’s core structure encloses an existing courtyard in glazing. This adds visiting areas, a café, special events, access to other collections, and a new gallery for special exhibitions underground. The firm, Foster+Partners, also reopened the old collonaded Fenway entrance after being shut down in the 1980s.  

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Fenway entrance_©
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Level one Plan_©
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Elevation _©

The central exhibition area is beyond the courtyard block; it extends into the museum’s core gallery spaces. It is shoebox shaped and supported by Virendeel trusses. The continuity of the pristine limestone-clad exterior is punctured by two cantilevered staircases, connecting the four levels with foyer spaces. The transparent glazing acts as open showcases to the artefacts of the galleries, creating visual dramas and dioramas. 

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The energy-efficient courtyard is illuminated by natural light, and the galleries are equipped with state-of-the-art air conditioning. The gallery space is structured so that art can be displayed with a clearer sense of transparency and light. 

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Courtyard _©

The larger-than-life glass façade allows serene sunlight to pass through to shroud the exhibits in the clarity of natural illumination. The light becomes a part of the exhibition by creating a soothing elevation. Slender columns support thin sheets of roof glazing. 


Also, the ceiling is designed to be equipped with acoustical and climatic control, using baffles and translucent panels. It is especially advantageous since it allows modularity in sunlight and varied acoustical absorptivity for programs of diverse natures. 


The newly designed Alfond Auditorium, with a capacity of 150 people, is nearby. The recent landscaping follows the previous landscaper, Olmstead’s romantic tradition of winding paths and tree planting. 

Also, on the premises, opened in 2015, there is a Japanese Garden, Tenshin-en, named after the museum’s late curator. The landscaping of the garden is designed to represent an interwoven idea of both: the contemplation of Japanese gardens and New England‘s rocky coasts and forests. 

Japanese Garden_©
Japanese Garden_©

Libraries and Art Collection | Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The museum’s library consists of the main library, the eight curatorial department libraries, and the library of the Dutch Art Centre. They also hold over 450,000 items, including 60,000 art auction archives and 150,000 periodicals and ephemerals. The Japanese art collection comprises 4,000 Japanese paintings, 5,000 ceramic pieces, and 30,000 ukiyo-e prints.


  1. Boston Museum of Fine Arts Extension, Boston. Arquitectraviva. Available at : [Accessed 28 February 2023]
  2. (Last Updated 15 February 2015). The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), Art of Americas Wing. Architect Magazine. Available at: . [Accessed 28 February 2023]
  3. Museum of Fine Arts | Foster + Partners. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2023]
  4. Joann Gonchar, FAIA. (15 February 2011).  Museum of Fine Arts. Architectural Record. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2023]
  5. (28 November 2010) Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/ Foster + Partners. Arch Daily. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2023]
  6. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2023) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at:,_Boston. [Accessed 28 February 2023]
  7. Museum of Fine Arts, West Wing. (No date). Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2023]
  8. MFA Boston, Architectural History. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2023]

Arushi Bhargava is a literary enthusiast and an architect! Throughout her life and education, she has been on a quest for discovering more artistic, literary, and architectural treasures.