Emily and the late Joseph Pulitzer Jr. needed a home for their art collection. Introduced to the work of Tadao Ando—Japan's leading architect and a proponent of modernist architecture—they asked him to design the building. Initially they planned to rehabilitate an old building, but Emily Pulitzer later decided that a new building would be better. And she wanted a building as beautiful and perfect as the art it was to house.

Ando was now free to design a building using the material he loves best—concrete. For surfaces, Ando prefers "smooth as-cast finish," possibly the most difficult architectural concrete finish to achieve. What comes out of the forms is the finished product; repairs leave noticeable blemishes and are typically not allowed. Adding to the complexity is Ando's demand for precision craftsmanship. Wall surfaces must be free of leak marks and concrete "fins" at form separations. All panel lines from the 4x8-foot plywood liners, and both the round form ties and the screws that attach the plywood, must align properly to provide the desired patterns.