Frank Gehry's Renovation of Philadelphia Museum of Art to Open in May

John Hill
1. d’abril 2021
The Williams Forum, looking west and up to Lenfest Hall, 40 feet high from the Ground (street) Level. When it opens in May, it will be installed with Fire (United States of America) by Teresita Fernàndez. Architectural rendering by Gehry Partners, LLP and KX-L, 2016. Photo courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has announced that Frank Gehry's renovation, reorganization, and expansion of the museum's 93-year-old landmark building will open to the public on May 7, 2021.

According to the museum's announcement earlier this week, the project has been in the works for two decades. We learned about the project back in 2014, when an exhibition of Gehry's plans for the museum were on display there, about a decade after the architect was hired to undertake what is undeniably a very un-Gehry project. 

The Core Project, as it's called, fully preserves the 1928 building’s temple-like exterior, turning within — and underground — to reconfigure existing spaces and create new ones. A palette of complementary materials, such as limestone sourced from the quarry that supplied the original building, means Gehry's design fits seamlessly with the existing. 

Gehry is quoted in the announcement: "The goal in all of our work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been to let the museum guide our hand. The brilliant architects who came before us created a strong and intelligent design that we have tried to respect, and in some cases accentuate. Our overarching goal has been to create spaces for art and for people."

According to the announcement, "the museum’s uppermost public levels," which consists of the Great Stair Hall, among other spaces, "have remained largely untouched." Instead, "the Gehry team opened up long-closed or underutilized back-of-house spaces on the first floor and ground level," giving them over for public use. 

Some notable interventions in the energy-efficient, ADA-compliant Core Project include: renovating Lenfest Hall, where most people enter the museum; creating the Williams Forum, a new event space and connection to the museum's upper levels; and opening up the Vaulted Walkway, which spans the entire breadth of the building, to the public. These and other spaces can be grasped in the cross-section that dates back to at least the 2014 exhibition.

A cross-section shows the changes to the interior within the existing building (Core Project). Additional galleries below the East Terrace are designed for a future phase of the Museum’s Facilities Master Plan). Architectural rendering by Gehry Partners, LLP and KX-L, 2016. Photo courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.

Photographs of some of the work completed two years ago are presented below, followed by renderings of some of the spaces that people will be able to experience when the museum opens on May 7. All images are courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and include captions from the museum.

Photographs:

The North Entrance, for the first time in decades, was restored to public use in 2019 as part of the Core Project. Steve Hall © Hall + Merrick Photographers, 2019, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.
The North Entrance now provides access to the Vaulted Walkway and a new retail store adorned by restored Tiffany doors. This is a return to its original use, when the building first opened in 1928. Steve Hall © Hall + Merrick Photographers, 2019, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.
The Vaulted Walkway, original to the building, is illuminated with natural skylight and bronze-encased LED lighting. Steve Hall © Hall + Merrick Photographers, 2019, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.

Renderings:

Upon entering the museum via the Robbi and Bruce Toll Terrace, visitors will be able to see up into the Great Stair Hall and down into the Williams Forum, revealing pathways to art on multiple levels. Architectural rendering by Gehry Partners, LLP and KX-L, 2016. Photo courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.
Staircases are a signature feature of Frank Gehry’s design. Part of the challenge for the architect was to use a light touch, ensuring that the museum’s history is preserved, yet brought into the present day. A gently winding staircase is among the new changes, gesturing to another set of steps into the Williams Forum. Architectural rendering by Gehry Partners, LLP and KX-L, 2016. Photo courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.
The South Hall will be installed with works of art. Architectural rendering by Gehry Partners, LLP and KX-L, 2016. Photo courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.

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