Philadelphia Museum of Art breaks ground on Gehry expansion
It’s not often that a signature designer like Frank Gehry takes on a commission that is essentially a background project with low visibility. But that is essentially what Gehry signed on to do at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006, when he accepted the job as Master Planner for the Museum’s $81m expansion most of which will not be visible from the street.
The first phase of that project - a new 68,000 sq ft Art Handling facility - broke ground on 9th November, kicking off a 10 year effort that will dramatically rework the Museum’s plan to improve the visitor experience, add new galleries capable of accommodating large works of art and restore the neoclassical building. While this work will largely be accomplished underground by excavating under the terraces and stairs, Gehry is said to be angling to put his signature on the building’s landmark exterior.
Inga Saffron, the architecture critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who has seen the models Gehry has produced for the project, said one the architect’s most controversial ideas is a tumbling series of cubes emanating from the museum’s classical end walls that would house a new staircase.
The new Art Handling Facility will consolidate and organise the delivery of all types of materials to the south side of the museum. In doing so, it will free up the north side of the building to once again become a major public entrance since it was closed to the public in 1975. The facility will house the museum’s operations for the care and handling of art and will have three loading docks and a staging area. It will incorporate stone cladding to blend with the natural rock outcropping around the base of the building and will be capped by a green roof.
“The creation of this new Art Handling Facility is one of the most important steps we can take in improving our landmark Main Building and preparing this institution to meet the needs of the community in the future. It represents the first expansion of the building’s footprint since 1928 and will serve as the foundation for the Museum’s future”, said Constance H. Williams, Chair of the Museum’s Board of Trustees.
In addition to the Gehry project, the Museum has made several recent improvements to its campus including the opening of the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building across the street, the completion of extensive work on the Main Building’s façade and roof, and the opening a parking garage with a green roof and sculpture garden.