“Just come in.” That’s the message from Craig Reynolds, the newly appointed director of the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design. Situated on Monument Avenue at the southwest corner of Jefferson Davis Circle, Branch House is partially hidden from the street by a brick wall that wraps around the lot. Built from 1916 to 1919 for prominent Richmond businessman John Kerr Branch, the house was purchased in 2003 by the Virginia Center for Architecture Foundation and opened to the public in 2005.
Last year, in a rebranding and mission expansion, the center was renamed the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, dedicated to “developing the understanding of architecture and design and their influence on our lives, our communities, and our world.”
Reynolds, who holds a PhD from VCU in art history, criticism and conservation, joined the staff last summer as a curator and director of education.
Craig Reynolds, new director of the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design. (Photo courtesy of Branch Museum of Architecture and Design)
R•Home: What is your role as director?
Reynolds: The 21st century demands a multidisciplinary approach in all areas of life — business, education — and that includes museums. I was offered the chance to come here to work last year on a curatorial project related to architecture. At the same time, the board was thinking about the future of this house. They realized a permanent curator was needed, and it made sense for me to also do day-to-day management. We want to consider how we talk about the broad scope of design, not just architecture. We have to rethink how we engage our community — what they want for us, not just what we want to give to them.
RH: What is significant about Branch House?
Architect John Russell Pope designed the Branch House. (Photo courtesy of Branch Museum of Architecture and Design)
Reynolds: John Russell Pope, who designed the Broad Street train station [now the Science Museum of Virginia], designed the Branch House. You can see the station from the second-floor Georgian parlor. With eclectic styles, the house itself is a lesson on design and can be the entry point, both literally and figuratively, to talk about the role of design and architecture in everyday life. Once you come inside, it just opens up; you want to see what’s down the corridor or around the corner.
RH: What are some plans for 2016?
Reynolds: We want to maximize functions; we have such wonderful spaces, we want to expand what we do with and in them. We also have to think about how to preserve and care for this building, which requires not only general maintenance but also updates to make it functional. We are working to meet a matching grant from the Cabell Foundation; if we raise $1 million, the foundation gives $500,000. Most of this money would go toward preservation of the house, which we can make a very public act because we can do incredible education around that.
RH: What do you want visitors to know before they come?
Reynolds: Admission is free — a fee may be charged for some events — but Branch House is a tremendous resource for Richmond and residents of the Commonwealth. People are welcome to come and enjoy the space. We have a public reading room on the second level and a wonderful community garden in the back. We are now offering yoga, so people can experience the house in a physical way. We believe that after people come the first time, they’re going to return. They’ll realize what a treasure this space is.