Frank Gehry’s stunning $233 million renovation of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been unveiled
Drawing on the creativity of Frank Gehry, the Philadelphia Museum of Art completed a $233 million renovation and reorganization of the lower interior spaces at the heart of the iconic 1928 Beaux Arts building. The final phase of a master plan for improvements approved by the museum’s board of directors in 2004 and taking four years of construction, the so-called flagship project produces nearly 90,000 square feet of reimagined public space and new galleries that are scheduled to open May 7.
“This paves the way for the future in many ways – in terms of infrastructure, in terms of distribution, and paving the way for the construction of new space,” says Timothy Robb, the museum’s director, referring to the next phase of major work. Plan. This would require an underground expansion of about 80,000 square feet below the museum’s eastern terrace, which is embraced by the U-shaped building.
Jerry knows the way buildings work and how to sequence spaces
Timothy Robb, Director, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Perhaps unusually for an architect, known for testing boundaries, Gehry took a respectful stance toward the nearly century-old building. Designed by Horace Trumbauer and Julian Appel as a hilltop temple, it was in desperate need of modernizing systems — electricity, heating, water, air treatment, and networks.
“From the moment I started exploring it, I knew Trumbauer and Appel had planned the expansion all those years ago,” says Gehry, adding that he is still amazed by the clever design of the original museum. “I hope people feel like my part of the design was there all along and was just revealed, because that’s what I feel like we did.”
Gehry’s big step was to demolish an auditorium added in 1959 in the center of the ground floor and replace it with a 40-foot-high open forum space. The multi-storey forum is accessed by two new flights of stairs, and connects to the main entrance hall on the first floor and the grand central staircase, which is crucial to providing better vertical and horizontal circulation through the museum.
The forum, which will be used for events, performances and educational programmes, is ideal for large-scale artwork and will open with Fire (USA) (2017-20), Teresita Fernández’s map of the United States and its dependencies composed of charred pieces of wood. The monumental works of L. Anatsui and Do Ho Suh will be on display there over the next year and a half.
The back wall of the forum will eventually open up and become the central portal for the future underground addition. Its timeline remains to be determined and will require significant new fundraising. (Nearly 90% of the funds for the core project have been raised, according to Robb.)
Gehry also restored a Guastavino-tile vaulted corridor running 640 feet, the full width of the museum, dividing the Forum at ground level, as well as creating two new wings of galleries surrounding the Forum by relocating the shop, restaurant, and back floor. Home operations from these spaces.
“One often overlooked aspect of Frank’s work is that he is a great planner,” Rob says. “He knows the way buildings work and how to sequence spaces. This is exactly what we needed in a building as large and complex as ours.”
In addition to updating all of the building’s systems, Gehry did a subtle intervention in the main entrance hall, including a new coffered ceiling with built-in LED lighting that makes the tan limestone walls glow. His most signature sculptural touch comes in the design of the dramatic stairs that curve gently in two directions and are tonally clad in limestone from the same quarries in Minnesota used in the original building.
The new 20,000 square feet of gallery space is divided evenly between American art from 1650 to 1850—doubling the amount of space devoted to that collection—and modern and contemporary acquisitions. “We knew these were great opportunities to reinterpret and diversify our collection offering,” says Rob.
This reinstallation of more than 800 works in the Early American Galleries includes a more comprehensive collection of Philadelphia-centered narratives, dating back to William Penn’s first encounters with the Lenape people in the late 1600s, including new connections with the Caribbean and Central America And the south. As well as the role of African Americans in the city’s cultural economy.
Modern and contemporary exhibitions focus on Philadelphia as well, highlighting 25 artists with a strong connection to the city, whether born, educated or currently residing there. Opening presentation New Grit: Art and Philly Now Featuring artists such as Howardena Bendell, Jesse Krems, Wilmer Wilson IV, and Jonathan Lyndon Chase, who grapple with personal, social, and political issues from the Black Lives Matter movement to immigration to mass incarceration.
“I wanted to do something contemporary that would be an acknowledgment of the fact that it’s a great city for teaching arts, but there are also a lot of artists working here,” says Rob, who describes the exhibition as a “love letter to Philadelphia.” .