Text description provided by the architects. Based in Louisville, Kentucky, the Filson Historical Society collects, curates, and archives the rich narrative of the Ohio River Valley region, offering an ambitious range of educational programs and cultural resources that support this focus. After 130 years of collection & operation, the organization outgrew its existing home in the Ferguson Mansion - an historic example of Beaux Arts architecture in the city’s Old Louisville preservation district - and sought to expand and modernize its assets. In doing so, the Filson also identified an opportunity to reflect its role more clearly as an inviting public resource engaging a diverse and broad community – rather than a private entity with exclusive membership.
As one component of a comprehensive expansion that links together existing historic structures and a public plaza, the Owsley Brown II History Center is a new 30,000 square foot facility that provides multi-use event spaces, archival storage, and a digitization lab. In reinforcing a renewed presence of welcome and openness for the Filson, the History Center is configured to visually reveal its internal functions to the community as a deliberate architectural contrast to the Ferguson Mansion - capitalizing on the advantages of modern construction methods which allow for non-load bearing walls and large expanses of glazing. Embedded throughout the building are a series of transparent passageways and exhibit spaces that encourage exploration and discovery, while an elevated pedway weaves between the History Center, a Carriage House, and the Mansion. For the first time, the “New Filson” campus actively knits together adjacent neighborhood blocks through visually & physically porous boundaries.
Informed by in-depth research & documentation of the area's circa-1800 development densities, historic residential proportions, and materials common to the neighborhood, the new facility is specifically rooted in its immediate context while being clearly of its time - avoiding a 'false sense of history.' Aiming to achieve a design sensibility that evokes the handcrafted nature of the Ferguson Mansion’s architectural elements, the project recalls and re-invents traditional period details through new fabrication techniques that explore complexity through rigor, resourcefulness, and ease of fabrication. Historic features such as ornate ceilings, staircases, and wood-paneled walls are reinterpreted through abstracted references to the Filson’s focus on the Ohio River Valley region, drawing on conceptual precedents such as water droplets, ripples, and refracted surfaces.
The project implements numerous sustainable design strategies that primarily focus on passive and economical approaches, including site orientation, natural light, regionally-sourced materials, and prefabrication. Although the client did not request to pursue LEED certification, the project is designed to meet LEED Silver criteria as a minimum threshold. Through an inclusive design process facilitated by early involvement of the community, building committees and approval agencies, the Owsley Brown II History Center is the only large-scale building within Old Louisville to receive unanimous approval by the city’s Historic Landmark Commission in over 40 years.