The historic buildings of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts sit on the edge of town in Hagerstown, Maryland, in an idyllic, park-like setting. The facility boasts a new 3,200 square-foot atrium that allows for year-round use of a previously underutilized space and complements the original building by gracefully marrying the old and the new.

The former exterior courtyard was located between gallery wings and was unusable in colder months and bad weather. The museum’s trustees set out to repurpose the space so that it could be utilized year-round for special events and programming.

Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects was selected to design the new space, and the result is an elegant $1.3 million addition to the museum campus: a skylit courtyard enclosure that filters in natural daylight.

The structure is independent of the original historic gallery museum building, which incorporated an easement through the Maryland Historic Trust. In response, Murphy & Dittenhafer designed thoughtfully-located structural supports and a pyramidal skylight system over the entire courtyard. The brick walls of the original 1930s gallery wings serve as the perimeter walls for the interior courtyard space.

Murphy & Dittenhafer incorporated numerous high-performance and energy efficiency features into the contemporary design of the new courtyard enclosure, including LED lighting, sustainable mechanical systems, and a brick floor radiant heating system. The space is not only aesthetically elegant, but also environmentally responsible, and equipped to be responsive to ensure patron comfort and usage throughout changing times of day and season.

“The architectural design has provided the museum with a larger-than-life ‘good business’ investment on which they continue to capitalize” says Frank Dittenhafer. “The design has contributed directly to the successful rebranding of the entire museum from a respected but low-profile institution to that of a progressive regional venue that is on the move.”

The project is directly responsible for increased, consistent year-round attendance at the museum and expanded programming, including music, lectures, and dance, in addition to the visual arts. The prismatic forms of the glass skylight system and photos of the new courtyard enclosure are featured prominently in the museum’s communications and publications. The museum has seen marked growth in new membership and the courtyard space is regularly rented for public and private functions.