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Monroe, Safdie Are Mum on Peabody Essex’s Expansion After Architect Rick Mather’s Death


Architects’ rendering of the planned Peabody Essex addition (beneath the fireworks)

Proving that the best-laid plans sometimes go dismayingly astray, the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA, has suddenly found itself in the stricken position of mourning the death of architect Rick Mather, who was chosen in 2011 to design PEM’s 175,000-square-foot expansion, scheduled for completion in 2017.

Here’s all that a spokesperson for the PEM’s understandably dumbstruck director, Dan Monroe, could tell me yesterday about the status of the project, in light of this unforseen development:

Dan relays that everyone is still in shock at Rick’s sudden passing and that we will be sure to let you know our plans after we’ve had a chance to commemorate his death.

A spokesperson whom I contacted at Mather’s office seemed to suggest that the his firm would continue the work on PEM without him:

I’m afraid that the information you are requesting about PEM [regarding the status of the architecture work and who would carry it forward] is not currently for publication. If you require further information about the Peabody Essex Museum, please visit our website [latest PEM news, here] which we will update as we progress with the project [emphasis added].

As I mentioned in my Tuesday report of Mather’s passing, office partners Gavin Miller and Stuart Cade intend to carry on the firm’s work.

By coincidence (“nose for news”?), I had a chance to chat in person last night with Moshe Safdie, the architect of the Peabody Essex’s most recent expansion (which I previously criticized, here). I had previously arranged to attend his lecture at the National Academy about his practice (including this high-profile museum assignment).


Architect Moshe Safdie
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Before he stepped up to the lectern to began his slide presentation, I asked Safdie if he knew anything about what was going to happen in Salem. He told me that he wasn’t currently at liberty to say, but that there would probably be an announcement in a week or so.

Could it be that he might take an active role in the completion of the expansion?

Here’s what a PEM spokesperson had previously told me when I asked why Safdie hadn’t been chosen for this project:

The Safdie expansion is such a strong, defining, elegant statement—one of his very best among museums—that it would be difficult to have two such statements in juxtaposition in the same institution.

And Monroe had personally told me this:

Moshe’s a great architect and it was a delight to work with him….We had a very productive relationship with Moshe. But if you talked to him, he’d verify that we were also very strong and involved clients.

The PEM expansion is currently in the process of preparing the existing building for construction, which had been scheduled to begin early next year. When I know more, you’ll know more. (But you’ll need to keep watching my Twitter feed, as well as CultureGrrl, to know everything I know.)

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