The original bequest stipulated that an architect of international repute should design the building; a committee from the University of Nebraska chose the New York–based architect Philip Johnson.
With its graceful balance, arched porticoes, and slender columns, the building design is reminiscent of ancient Greek temples and signals a transition from the International Style of architecture pioneered in the United States by Mies van der Rohe. The Italian travertine was quarried from the plains near Rome and moved in blocks to the Henraux Marble Laboratorio, where it was cut to fit the puzzle design Johnson had inscribed on the back of each block. The pieces were cut so precisely that metal clips rather than mortar hold them in place. The large concave discs in the ceiling of the Great Hall are covered in gold leaf to provide added elegance as well as contrast with the marble surfaces. The relatively small gallery spaces are designed to provide an intimate encounter with the artworks shown and offer a counterpoint to the expansiveness of the Great Hall. Groundbreaking began on January 21, 1961, and the museum was dedicated in 1963.
Additional buildings by Johnson include the Mark Rothko Chapel in Houston, the Museum of Modern Art Annex East Wing and Garden Wing in New York, the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in Fort Worth.
For more information on the Sheldon Museum of Art building, see