A Gehry like no other

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Gehry plan for the renovation and expansion of the Philadelphia Art Museum unveiled in a special exhibition

The first look at the much-anticipated designs for the renovation and expansion of the Philadelphia Art Museum by Frank Gehry will come courtesy of an exhibition intended to warm the public to the idea that the Museum is embarking on a major project that will transform one of the citys most recognized structures. Already one the largest art museums in the US, the design renews the museums main building, reorganizing how it is experienced while adding more than 169,000 sq ft of new space.      

Opening 1 July and remaining on view until 1 September 2014, the exhibition Making a Classic Modern will introduce visitors to the various ways in which Frank Gehry and his creative team, including landscape architect OLIN, have addressed the opportunities and challenges of updating this historic facility. The masterplan encompasses the full breadth of the Museum, from the East Entrance with its 'Rocky steps' facing Center City to the West Entrance overlooking the Schuylkill River. Most of the changes proposed will take place within the Museums interior with minimal changes to the buildings exterior.

While Gehry is known for creating exuberant, memorable buildings that are products of parametric design, his approach here is 'dramatically different and virtually unique', says the Museum. Interior changes proposed to the building include the renovation of the beloved Great Stair Hall and major improvements to how visitors will enter and move through the building. While a significant amount of new gallery and educational spaces will be added, these areas will be accommodated within the museums interior and below the East Terrace. 

To understand the history of the building and the changes afoot, the exhibition will put on view large scale models, architectural drawings, photographs and videos. Also on view will be works of art, many of them newly acquired, to drive home the point that the expansion will allow the Museum to showcase more of its extensive holdings of American, Asian and modern and contemporary art in the 78,000 sq ft of new gallery space provided.  

One of the highlights of the new design will be the reopening of the public entrance on the north side of the Museum. Closed to the public since the 1970s, this monumental arched entrance adjacent to Kelly Drive will be renovated to provide public access to a grand vaulted corridor, part of the original design of the building that runs 640ft from the north to the south side of the building. This walkway will provide access to the new galleries through a long, vaulted arcade and will intersect with the new Forum below the Great Stair Hall, thus providing access to the entire building for visitors entering on this level. Also accessible from the Kelly Drive entrance will be a new 299-seat auditorium equipped for lectures, performances and public events.

Timothy Rube, the George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Art Museum said: Gehrys considered and carefully detailed design is the embodiment of creative stewardship. The approach that Frank and his staff took to solving this challenging program reflects a deep sympathy for one of Philadelphias best-known and most widely admired landmarks. The design was also informed by a sophisticated understanding of how this facility needs to be changed to continue to serve the need of our visitors and our community. It is an inspiring blueprint for the future of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. All of this will be accomplished in a way that honors and preserves the fabric of the iconic building and will hardly be evident to the exterior.

We began by studying the character of this wonderful building - its DNA, so to speak. It is rare to have the bones of the existing building show you the way to expand it. From there, we used the significant assets that the original architects gave us to create a strong entry sequence and circulation pattern that connects the new galleries to the existing building in a way that makes the new galleries seem like thy have always been there. My goal is to make the building feel like one coherent design statement, said Frank Gehry.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent 

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