Cleveland architects Benjamin Hubbell and W. Dominick Benes were engaged to design and construct the new museum. After a study of museum buildings nationally and worldwide, Hubbell and Benes designed a Beaux Arts style building with two wings flanking a central rotunda. Construction began in 1913 and was completed for the June 1916 opening. The gallery level housed the main entrance on the south side of the building facing Wade Park. Fifteen galleries plus the Armor Court and Interior Garden Court surrounded the Rotunda. The ground level housed the north entrance, Lecture Hall, Library, Children's Museum, classrooms, Tea Room, staff offices and art storage.
Almost immediately, concepts for museum expansion were drawn by Hubbell and Benes. Some included elaborate wings extending into what is now Wade Oval.
These ideas were never acted on, but the need for additional space came to a head in the 1950s. An addition was built to the north of the museum and opened in 1958. The addition was designed by the Cleveland firm of Hayes and Ruth, and was funded by Leonard C. Hanna, the museum's most significant donor. The 1958 addition housed new gallery spaces and the library.
The need for space continued to grow and in 1971 the museum opened another addition designed by Marcel Breuer. The Breuer building housed the new north entrance and lobby, education classrooms and lecture halls, Gartner Auditorium, and additional gallery space. The move of these functions out of the 1916 and 1958 buildings and into the Breuer building spurred a number of phased renovations in the 1970s as these spaces were converted to galleries. The most notable of these was the renovation of the old Lecture Hall into the Asian galleries.
One final addition was added to the west side of the complex in 1983. This addition, designed by the Cleveland firm Dalton, van Dijk, Johnson, & Partners, housed the Ingalls Library and additional galleries.
With the current renovation and expansion project, the museum will add additional galleries, public spaces, and storage and office space. It will correct the confusing flow through the galleries created by the previous additions and renovations. The Breuer building has been renovated and has been returned to its original education focus housing classrooms, lecture halls, and the Ingalls Library. The galleries of the 1916 Hubbell and Benes building have been renovated for the 21st century. New construction includes an east and west wing designed by Rafael Vinoly for gallery, storage and office space. The 1958 and 1983 buildings will be torn down to make room for a Vinoly designed atrium public space.