EMRCA to a fare-thee-well

More than a year has elapsed since my last report, but the effort of Thomas Krens – director emeritus of the Guggenheim Foundation and principal of Global Cultural Asset Management – to remake North Adams into a world-class cultural destination has not lapsed at all.  Now I’ll only say a parting word of encouragement and good wishes, and then hand off the reporting of further developments to GCAM’s enhanced digital media department.

Though I’ve been removed from developments over the past year (nothing could be more woefully out of date than the EMRCA model in the header; click here to see current design in situ), and lately it might have seemed that the pandemic and associated economic shocks would put an end to the major cultural and economic development planned for downtown North Adams.

But no, the dream lives on.  Last fall saw the consolidation of EMRCA  offices from Heritage Park, and GCAM offices from NYC, into the former Sleepy’s Mattress store on Main Street, where the windows  look out on the world and in from the local community.  The large display space offers ample room for detailed scale models of the North Adams project, and wall-sized illustrations of GCAM projects around the world, as well as space to scale up staff as needed.  (See more about that move and other recent news in the latest EMRCA Newsletter.)

And the existing staff continues hard at work despite the limitations of quarantine and restricted travel.  Investment efforts have been hampered under current conditions, but design and technical innovations continue to advance.  Keep up with the latest developments at the official EMRCA website.

Rolling out the plan

As part of a strategic turn to a more public face for EMRCA and related projects, Tom Krens delivered the most recent of his illustrated lectures at the Clark on the subject of “Unfinished Business: EMRCA and the Diseases of Despair,” in which he outlined his overall vision concerning for-profit cultural attractions as a driver of economic development in North Adams and the region.

This informative, exciting, and entertaining lecture drew a full house to the Clark auditorium, and director Olivier Meslay promised that a video of it will be posted to the Clark’s website “sooner rather than later.”  I will supply that link when it’s available.

For now, I refer you to Bill Densmore’s extensive report about the talk on the Greylock Independent website.  In particular, check out the two renderings of the latest exterior design of EMRCA, which supersedes that in the header of this blog.  For me personally, the new design by Chinese architect Zhu-Pei was the biggest revelation of Tom’s talk.

Frank Gehry had been lined up as prospective architect for EMRCA, but on a site visit to North Adams expressed more interest in working on a Mohawk Theater project.  The exterior design model at the top of this page was Tom’s placeholder based on his interior requirements.  Having worked with Zhu-Pei on projects in China, Tom turned to him for a streamlined shell reminiscent of a speeding locomotive, which really does take the architectural project to another level.

Tom’s talk outlined advances in financing and technology, as well as design plans.  The Eagle reports that his consultancy, Global Cultural Asset Management, is moving into the former Sleepy’s Mattress store in downtown North Adams, having outgrown the office space at Heritage Park.  (See here for iBerkshires story.  See here for GCAM’s museum development projects since Tom left the directorship of the Guggenheim, and here for an overview of the operation.)

With the move to more public information on the project, EMRCA’s own website may soon render this one superfluous, but for now that one is password-protected and does not include materials beyond the links offered at the top of this page.  Or it may be that Tom will become more open to independent reporting and commentary.  I’ve had personal reasons for drifting away from this blog, but Tom was never a fan anyway.  I know he likes to control his own message and timing, but perhaps he is now willing to “let a thousand flowers bloom.”  We shall see – about that, and so much more.


Krens twice more at the Clark

Just another reminder that Tom will be giving another illustrated lecture in the Clark auditorium on Sunday, January 20, at 3:00 pm.  This talk is supposed to focus on his efforts on various museum projects in New York City while he was director of the Guggenheim.  I hear that he may have a well-known guest as interlocutor, but can’t confirm that.  Tom will be back at the Clark on Sunday, February 10, at 3:00 pm, for his culminating talk on the “Unfinished Business” of EMRCA, about which I will report, along with other related events.

Krens at the Clark

EMRCA principal Thomas Krens will be giving a series of four illustrated talks at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, beginning Sunday, October 21st, at 3:00 pm.  Details are here.

The series goes under the title “Building Culture, Changing Societies” and will cover his experiences in Abu Dhabi and Bilbao, as well as in Manhattan and other cities where he developed major projects as director of the Guggenheim.  The final talk, on February 10, 2019, will cover the “unfinished business” of EMRCA.

As someone who has been watching Tom give illustrated talks in various venues for longer than either of us would care to divulge, I can assure you that whatever the nominal subject, the matter will be wide-ranging, deeply fascinating, and visually spectacular.  And more charming and humorous than you might expect, given the Krens rep for arrogance.  You will have a hard time not getting swept up in his visions.

The MacroMicroCosm

Blogging means no bright idea need go to waste, so I making this post to establish my bona fides as an independent – and suitably skeptical – observer of my longtime friend Tom Krens and his vision for EMRCA and North Adams as a whole.  While I rely largely on testimony straight from the horse’s mouth, this blog is neither authorized puff piece nor unauthorized tell-all.  My aim is neither sycophancy nor exposé.

I’ve harassed Tom several times about the acronym he’s stuck on, which I find unsayable, unmemorable, and unexplanatory, but he’s not budging.  Here on my own turf, however, I get to call the attraction, at least this once, by my own denomination.  So I’m making a marketing pitch for the place as I imagine it to be, once Tom’s vision is manifest.  Consider this my own little take on Tom’s big plans.

The MacroMicroCosm:

An Extreme Museum of Model Railroading & Modern Architecture

IT’S MACRO!  It’s an immensely immersive display of large O-Scale (1:48) models of many masterpieces – masterpieces of modern architecture in imposing scale and detail; masterpieces of engineering in massive all-brass locomotives, precisely detailed in impressive kinetic reproduction; vast landscapes and cityscapes rendered with mastery of fine-grained imaging technology.  It’s big and bold and mesmerizing.

IT’S MICRO!  It’s a world in miniature, down to the tiniest detail, a small world of expanded vision, brought up close to encompass the viewer, and to reveal hidden secrets of the built and natural environment.  Sized to a child’s sense of wonder, it opens up a universe of inquiry and exploration.  It brings big ideas into approachable scope.

IT’S COSMIC!  It’s a world unto itself, unique and incomparable.  It’s a cosmos, a created whole where everything fits.  Enter and you are swept away, into an entirely different dimension of space and time.  Take a god’s-eye view, and engage in your own world-building, while marveling at what art, nature, and technology have wrought.

Blending theme park sensorium with museum-level curation, The MacroMicroCosm is a singular world, unique in the world.  You’ve never seen anything like it.  Nobody has.

Updated models and other progress

Big things are taking shape in North Adams, Massachusetts, and new developments propel the project forward.  Many are detailed in the latest EMRCA newsletter.  Some I previewed in my last post here.

Certainly the partnership with two major construction companies, Skanska USA and Gilbane Building Company, remains the big news and puts the railroad and architecture museum on track for a 2021 opening.  But developing plans call for this huge attraction to be just the centerpiece for a larger transformation of downtown North Adams into a cultural magnet.

Do not miss the centerfold spread of the latest newsletter, which pictures Tom’s overall vision for “The North Adams Cultural Development Master Plan,” with many other elements beyond EMRCA itself, but all predicated on the half-million or more annual visitors projected for the central attraction.  If the plan seems overly ambitious, just consider the transformation that Tom’s urban planning has brought to unlikely locales like Bilbao and Abu Dhabi.

Part of the newsletter is devoted to the celebration surrounding the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the association of its architect, Jean Nouvel, to the overall North Adams project.  Other articles give background on the emerging technologies that will enable EMRCA to become an encompassing gesamtkunstwerk.  Also covered are the involvement of local and state government officials, and changes in tax law that open new opportunities for financing the project.

You can see that I have updated the header of this website, to reflect the new location and dimensions of the planned Extreme Model Railroad & Contemporary Architecture Museum.  Though the exterior design is far from final, this picture is less misleading than my previous header, which reflected superseded plans from two years ago.

New and expanded plans are reflected in ever-evolving scale models in the EMRCA offices at Heritage Park in North Adams.  The plan of the museum’s interior has been refined but not substantially altered since I posted The Model 2.0 but other models have been created and developed in the interim, so I have returned to examine the premises.  Modeling is as essential to the process as to the final product.


A new cross-section model that I call “Behind the Wizard’s Curtain” goes a long way to explaining the technology behind the immersive experience that the museum will provide and how the viewer will perceive it:

Note the technical access both below the flooring and the display area, and the scaffolding with video projectors between the interior and exterior walls.

To refresh your memory, here’s the long view down the huge open and unencumbered space of the central gallery of EMRCA, a total of 49,000 square feet:

Cafe in foreground, educational and administrative departments on glass-walled second level to the right, and the long vista from landscape to cityscape.

Here is how that interior will fit in its exterior dimensions and siting (again, exterior design provisional):

That model is part of a larger model of the grand project envisioned for downtown North Adams.  Here is its location, seen in the background, in relation to Main Street with the existing Holiday Inn in the right foreground, and in the center the imagined Jean Nouvel-designed hotel.  Behind that is a “Central Park,” surrounded by other museums and condominiums.

In reverse angle, see EMRCA in foreground with pedestrian bridge to Central Park, adjacent to multi-function parking garage and events space:

Reverse angle again, to focus on Central Park area.  Beyond EMRCA see more parking adjacent to Route 8, also for use by Joe Wolfe Field and riverside park envisioned by the Hoosic River Revival initiative:

From the other side of the display table, look from existing Heritage Park across Route 8 overpass to redeveloped downtown, with groundplan on wall behind:

Dip down for view of Heritage Park with planned Massachusetts Museum of Time, and Mount Greylock Craft Distillery in the foreground:

Speaking of which, here’s another new model, with floor plans and photos of prototypes:

From the production side, and the tasting side:

One last view shows EMRCA entrance from Route 8, with a massive bit of whimsy from Tom’s long and extensive connection to the international art world.  Jeff Koons’ huge floral puppy became one of the signature images of the Guggenheim Bilbao.  His hanging full-sized locomotive was originally conceived for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and subsequently considered for a place above the High Line in New York.  Wouldn’t it be a kick if it finally found its perfect home in North Adams?  A long shot, but I wouldn’t put it past Tom to bring it off.

Call this all a blue-sky pipe-dream if you must, but you gotta admit, it’s kinda cool.


Signs of spring

Though it happens to be snowing at the moment I’m writing, maybe the long Berkshire winter is about to end.  And maybe next year around this time, ground will be broken for construction of EMRCA, the eagerly-awaited museum of trains and architecture, planned by Thomas Krens as a centerpiece to the transformation of North Adams into a tourist magnet.

Design and construction companies have signed on, following the naming of Frank Gehry as architect, and all that remains is to raise the financial investment necessary to leverage the massive project.  Both banks and potential investors will look more favorably on the project now that substantial corporations with proven track records and tangible assets are attached to it.

The involvement of Skanska USA and Gilbane Building Company was announced this month in an EMRCA press release, and reported in the Berkshire Eagle and iBerkshires.  (The press release includes photos that do not reflect the final Gehry exterior design, but show the footprint and the scale of the building, which will dazzle upon approach from Route 8 north or south, or from downtown North Adams.)

These two are global companies of great reach and significant history, including experience in the Berkshires.  Both companies are collaborating on the new Taconic High School in Pittsfield, while Skanska was involved with new Stetson-Sawyer Library at Williams College, and Gilbane with the recent expansion of MassMoCA.

These new relationships were formed largely through the agency of Perri Petricca, president of Pittsfield’s Unistress Corporation and new member of EMRCA’s emerging Board of Directors.  The press release calls his efforts “an asset of incalculable value,” giving the project’s plans “a concrete foundation” (pun intended?).

Coincidentally, the real estate section of the New York Times, just featured Tom Krens and EMRCA as part of a long story headlined, “Betting on the Berkshires.”

In another coincidence, Max Hollein, a former deputy of Krens at the Guggenheim,  has just been named director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  That makes six major museums headed by Tom’s former assistants.

The Times followed up with a profile of Hollein, in which Tom figures prominently as a mentor.  The money quote:  “What he took from Mr. Krens, Mr. Hollein said, was that he could push an ambitious agenda until the pieces fell into place and naysayers came around.”  That describes the current state of play in North Adams precisely.

Krens is still consulting on an enormous project in Abu Dhabi, but North Adams will remain his pièce de résistance, the culmination of a distinguished career in museums and urban development.

Postscript:  A rather arcane development that could have major impact in the financing of the the museum project is Governor Baker’s designation of its site as an Opportunity Zone, as defined by recent tax legislation to aid community development.


Jean Nouvel and more news of note

The third issue of the EMRCA newsletter has been released, and while I have no further inside information to impart at this time, there is plenty of interesting news in the publication.

Featured is the story of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel’s involvement with the North Adams Cultural Development Master Plan, and specifically the Wilsonian Art Hotel proposed for Main Street.  The hook is the November 11th opening of Nouvel’s building for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which arose out of the master plan for the Saadiyat Island cultural district, developed by EMRCA principal Thomas Krens in 2005, when he was director of the Guggenheim Foundation.  The newsletter details the genesis of the Louvre Abu Dhabi project in a meeting between Krens and Nouvel in 2006, as well as Nouvel’s visit to North Adams in 2016.

Here are a variety of media links covering the museum opening:  New York Times; Christian Science Monitor; The Guardian; W Magazine; The Art Newspaper; Official LAD museum video (arrow right for 2-minute promo); Wikipedia entry; CNN feature; BBC video.  The Atlantic has a nice suite of photos.  But above all, I recommend this stupendous three-minute time-lapse video.  The NYT followed up with a nuanced art review of the museum itself.

In this issue’s “Heritage Park Spotlight,” the focus is on the Mount Greylock Craft Distillery, designed by architect Richard Gluckman to transform the park’s existing Buildings 5 and 6 into a showplace attraction of local craft distilling, along with dining and entertainment opportunities.  It’s worth adding that Tom’s son Nick, pictured in the story about the 2006 meeting between Krens and Nouvel, is an active participant in planning for the distillery.

There are brief stories on the visit of officials of the Massachusetts legislative Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development to EMRCA’s offices in Heritage Park, and on Krens’ keynote presentation to the annual dinner of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.  There is also notice of a forthcoming panel in San Francisco with Krens, designated EMRCA architect Frank Gehry, and former Massachussetts governor William Weld, similar to prior well-received panels in NYC and LA, which illustrates once again Krens’ web of associations among architects and museum directors worldwide.

There are also two brief stories on other railroad-related developments in Berkshire County.  One on the revival of planning for a direct rail connection between NYC and Pittsfield, and the other on the completion of track restoration for the Berkshire Scenic Railroad route from Adams to North Adams, where the terminus is adjacent to the proposed EMRCA site.

Finally, there is another feature on one of the inspirations for EMRCA, the stunningly detailed O-scale brass models of historic locomotives and railroad cars produced by Kohs & Company.  A much deeper dive into the artistry and engineering of the company’s models is available on the Kohs website.

All in all, this newsletter demonstrates the many ways work is advancing on a radical transformation of North Adams into a major cultural destination.

Frank Gehry and other news of note

The second issue of the EMRCA Newsletter has just been released, six pages crammed full of news, background, and analysis on the multifaceted development now advancing in North Adams.  (Previous and subsequent issues of EMRCA Newsletters are always accessible from the link above, or to the right.)

The lead story is about Frank Gehry’s site visit to North Adams on September 1st, previously covered here and amplified by this photo essay.

I’ve just been reading the chapter in Paul Goldberger’s Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry about the collaboration of Gehry and Krens on the epoch-making Guggenheim Bilbao.  In a paragraph on how the museum far exceeded its projections for attendance and economic impact, Goldberger quotes a Basque official on the results of the new museum, “we recovered our self-esteem.”  Just the prescription for North Adams.

At the end of the chapter – after describing how 9/11 derailed the work of Gehry and Krens on the so-called “Manhattan project” of a huge new Guggenheim museum near the South Street Seaport, and the delays to actual construction of the pair’s equally massive Guggenheim Abu Dhabi – he declares “the partnership between Frank Gehry and Tom Krens was over.  It had brought forth the most famous building in the world, transformed tourism, reimagined the museum, and changed the role of architecture as a force for urban redevelopment.  [Gehry] and Krens had produced what was arguably the most important building of the late twentieth century, and neither of them could have done it alone.”

Goldberger concludes, “But it would not happen again.  There would be only one Bilbao.”  North Adams, however, is lining up to prove him wrong.

The new issue of the EMRCA Newsletter also contains features on the unique approach to a museum of architecture, and on how an art installation in LA convinced Krens of the special and near-universal appeal of kinetic scale-model replicas of real environments.

Willams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard outlines the methodology of his study of the economic impact of EMRCA along with other attractions in the “Massachusetts Cultural Corridor” between Williamstown and North Adams.

Another article outlines some of the cutting-edge technologies in laser-scanning, 3-D digital fabrication, and large-scale modelmaking that will make the EMRCA installation feasible and affordable.

A piece on the Hoosac Tunnel suggests how that 19th-century technological wonder makes North Adams an ideal location for a museum devoted to the importance of railroads as a transformative technical innovation.

A “Heritage Park Spotlight” illuminates plans for the Massachusetts Museum of Time, and its integral connection to the train and architecture museum (to which I contributed some thoughts).

There are also announcements of coming development events and publicity initiatives.  The project is moving forward on many fronts simultaneously, and further newsletters will report plans and progress in various directions, to which X-RR will link.  Come back here often as this grand venture unfolds.