Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum

Learning through play is the mantra at the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester, Virginia.

This was originally a plain, utilitarian, three story brick building, originally constructed for the Schewels Furniture Company, in the late 1940’s, in Winchester’s historic downtown. A furniture store for about 60 years, it was more recently used as a church on the ground level, and professional offices on the second and third floors.  The objective was to transform an existing 14,500 square foot office building into a vibrant downtown attraction featuring hands-on art, science, cultural, environmental and media exhibitions, as well as special event space for children.

The renovations included enlivening the exterior with a child-designed community art project, adding an operable glass garage door and storefront windows and a whimsical, exuberant roof deck with landscaped learning gardens.

“This building is filled with wonder and delight – it will make you smile,” says Swartz, adding that matter-of-fact design solutions are married to whimsy in this building.  Exhibits include a full-size Triceratops skeleton, a dynamic and interactive health center, a water play area, and a hands-on science kitchen where children can perform experiments under the guidance of a professional scientist. In addition to classrooms, offices and a museum store, the new museum will feature an expanded art area with rotating artists-in-residence.

The “whimsy” Chuck refers to also carries itself to the roof of the building. The largest design intervention on the building was the installation of the roof terrace/sky level space used for gardening exhibits and educational programs. The area is animated with imaginative new roof pavilions capped with unusual standing seam metal roofs that protect the elevator, fire stairs, a shade pavilion with a stage for rooftop events, a small lobby, and a staff office. Sculptural sun shades stretch across the roofscape. One of the first events held atop the roof was the summer wedding of Nathan Webb, a Reader & Swartz architect who worked with Chuck on the design of the project.  “It was a little risky with the weather and we had to shoehorn our guests into the space but you were able to see the whole downtown area from the roof and we were able to pull it off just fine,” he recalls. The roof level is also a revenue generator for the museum, which rents it out for after-hours events. The roof terrace level allows great views of the historic downtown and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond. Conversely, the multi-colored metal roofs with their quirky designs can be seen from all over the city as well.

“The rooftop area and its roofs are a good example of how the architect can address the need of the client and help the community,” notes Swartz,   Pushing up the roof has given everyone a chance to talk about what is happening inside the building,” notes Swartz.

Meanwhile, the museum logo is the silhouette of the building and its quirky rooftop and it has been integrated into all of the marketing that has gone into the museum.  The building itself has become an anchor for a continuing downtown revitalization that has Winchester a regional destination for tourists.

The exterior skin of the small rooftop buildings is hardy panel-except one wall on one building known as the Happy Tower where the design drawings of an earlier version of the museum plus current drawings cover the space.

“The building always seems like it’s in a good mood. The roof has a “matter of fact” feeling like it’s going explode upward and make people happy, ”  notes Chuck.

It was a unique project in that we had to take a 1950’s nondescript commercial building and put a very different and very singular metal roof design on top of it,” recalls Darwin Anderson of Anderson Roofing in Winchester, the roof installer.

“Not only was the pitch of each roof pretty dramatic—one even had two different pitches—but the installation was intricate,” recalls Anderson.  “The quantity of standing seam roof was modest—only 3,500 square feet. The architect chose an Englert Series 1301 one-inch double lock system for all of the standing seam metal roofs.  Thickness was 26 gauge. The metal panel width on all roofs was 17 inches. But three of the roofs were designed with two different colors creating a striped effect.  The roof on the open building known as The Happy Tower is Galvalume and charcoal while all the other roofs are matte black and charcoal. A green structure covers the rear fire stair and elevator head. A blue building in the rear of the roof is a bathroom while a second blue building houses the main staircase. Some of the panel designs were unusual for a standing seam roof.  On the roof covering the staircase, a handful of panels lie flat against the sheathing while the remainder jut out at an angle, giving the building a whimsical, fairytale kind of appearance.  Panels were cut and installed on an angle at the eaves on some of the buildings--adding to the whimsy of the design.

The facility is one of only seven children’s museums in Virginia, and it draws visitors from a wide area including Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, as well as West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

“This museum is already known for its innovative programming. The new facility promises to become even more of a destination, and it will positively impact our local economy. We’ll see more visitors to the pedestrian mall, and they’re likely to combine their trip to the museum with dining out and shopping, so it’s good news on many levels,” says Sally Coates, Executive Director of the Winchester-Frederick County Convention & Visitor Bureau.

Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum

Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum

Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum

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