New Museum Taking Shape Among The Oak Trees - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

12/30/04

New Museum Taking Shape Among The Oak Trees

The beauty of Biloxi's live oak trees helped convince world famous architect Frank Gehry to design the new Ohr-O'Keefe museum .

He envisioned a series of galleries that would "dance with the trees". And the construction team is now busy making Gehry's vision a reality.

The beauty of the live oaks that so impressed Gehry, still dominates the busy construction site. Gehry started with the trees before designing the series of buildings.

"A lot of people I think have seen the models by themselves, the buildings by themselves and wondered why they're shaped the way they are. But they really are in response to the trees," said Biloxi architect Joey Crain, who's involved with the project locally.

The African-American gallery, now a skeleton of steel beams, was the most challenging to draw. It's actual "footprint" is just the size of a large house. But there's an abundance of steel.

"It has about 65 tons of steel in it. And a lot of that has to do with resolving the geometry structurally and taking them down into the foundation, into piles that go into the earth," Crain explained.

Every bit of construction work is deliberately planned with the large trees in mind. The team plotted every root and outlined each live oak canopy.

The attention to trees has paid off. The health of the 31 oaks is excellent.

"None of the trees have been damaged on the site except for one. And that was a lightning strike, so we didn't have anything to do with it," Crain said.

Just a half a block east of the construction site, you can get a pretty good idea of what the outside of the museum buildings will look like. A trio of large mock up models gives the architect and the builder a sample of the metallic material that will cover the galleries.

The new museum is scheduled to open in the summer of 2006.

By Steve Phillips

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