Renzo builds on a legacy

10 Feb 2010

Proposal revealed for extension of historic Boston museum

Final designs have been unveiled for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum extension designed by Renzo Piano. Located in the Fenway neighbourhood of Boston, the museum first opened its doors on New Year’s Eve 1903 and was designed by Gardner herself with assistance from architect Willard Sears.

To complement and respect the historic building, Piano has designed the new wing to stand 50 feet behind the existing museum building and to rise no higher. A first floor with transparent glass walls will afford direct views of the historic building and the surrounding garden landscapes of the museum property and Frederick Law Olmsted’s adjacent Emerald Necklace park system.

Anne Hawley, Norma Jean Calderwood Director said: “We chose Renzo Piano because he encapsulates the extraordinary combination of architect, artist, and builder…which is what contributes to his amazing capacity to envision great buildings and make them work.”

The 70,000 sq ft extension will feature four volumes clad in patinated green copper panels which will ‘float’ above the transparent first floor and echo the green of the gardens. These volumes will accommodate a 300 seat, in-the-round performance hall and a 2,000 sq ft, naturally lit special exhibition gallery. Visitors will circulate through the public spaces via an open central stairway and an elevator located at the building’s core. Adjacent to the main lobby a greenhouse with a sloped facade will rise to two storeys and feature a landscape classroom, as well as two artist apartments.

Architect Renzo Piano said: “We are not trying to compete with the beauty of the palace, but we have to provide some magic. The new building may actually be the tool, the instrument, to save the Palace without changing it too much. That this is a fragile creation that cannot survive with its current level of use is one of the conversations we’re having every day. We are talking about an intimate museum that wants to remain intimate.”

Construction on the new building is expected to be completed in late 2011, and the new wing is expected to open in early 2012.

Laura Paton

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