Thursday, May 15, 2014

Gehry Master Plan Transforms Iconic Philly Museum

On July 1, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will unveil the comprehensive plan that Frank Gehry has created for the renovation and expansion of its home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The exhibition Making a Classic Modern: Frank Gehry’s Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art will offer a first look at a design that renews one of Philadelphia’s greatest landmarks. The plan also reorganizes and expands the building, adding more than 169,000 square feet of space. 

Included in this exhibition, which will remain on view in the Dorrance Galleries until September 1, will be large-scale models, site plans, sections, and renderings. The project will ultimately transform the interior of one of the city’s most iconic buildings, enabling the Museum to display much more of its world-renowned collection.

Making a Classic Modern will introduce visitors to the various ways in which Frank Gehry and his creative team have addressed the challenges and opportunities of updating this historic facility. The building is in need of substantial renovation, reorganization, and expansion to meet current and future needs.

The Master Plan encompasses the full breadth of the Museum, from the East Entrance with its iconic “Rocky steps” facing Center City to the West Entrance overlooking the Schuylkill River. Although he is best known for the expressive, sculptural forms of buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Gehry has taken an approach to this project that is dramatically different and virtually unique.

Gehry’s design focuses on the transformation of the interior of the Museum through the renovation of beloved spaces such as the Great Stair Hall and major improvements to how visitors will enter and move through the building. The design also calls for the creation of a significant amount of new space for expanded educational activities and the display of the Museum’s extensive holdings of American, Asian, and modern and contemporary art in new galleries created both within the existing building and underneath the East Terrace.

Constance H. Williams, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, stated: “The Board of Trustees is delighted to share this Master Plan with our members and the public. This vision representing our future is closely aligned with our strategic objectives to ensure that the Museum continues to serve our community and attract visitors from across the region and around the world.”

On view will be carefully detailed large-scale models, architectural drawings, photographs and videos that will enable visitors to explore the history of the building. The exhibition will also include works of art, many of which were acquired during the last decade, to demonstrate how this project can make it possible for the Museum to display much more of its collection. The new galleries are among the most prominent features of Gehry’s plan.

Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: “Gehry’s 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 Philadelphia’s 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 needs 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 on the exterior. To understand how this thoughtful design will change the Museum in profound ways, one needs, in essence, to look inside.”

Frank Gehry said: “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 they have always been there. My goal is to make the building feel like one coherent design statement.”

Given the prominence of the Museum’s main building as a landmark, minimal changes have been proposed for the exterior by Gehry Partners and OLIN, the noted Philadelphia firm specializing in landscape architecture, planning, and urban design. These changes include the redesign of the plaza in front of the West Entrance and the landscaping of a substantial portion of the area now used for parking on this side of the building; the integration of skylights and sunken gardens into the East Terrace to bring natural light into the new galleries that have been proposed; and the addition on the northeast and southeast corners of the building of stair enclosures that will be simple in form and clad in the same sandstone used on the exterior in order to be as unobtrusive as possible.

By contrast, many significant changes have been proposed for the interior, yielding an increase of 124,000 square feet of public space, including 78,000 square feet of gallery space throughout the building. Other changes address access and circulation through the varying “ground” levels of the facility. At present, visitors enter the Museum on the first floor through the East Entrance and the Great Stair Hall or on the slightly lower floor through the West Entrance and Lenfest Hall. The Gehry design will open new spaces to explore, such as the Forum and new galleries under the East Terrace.

Among the interior changes are: 

 The renovation of the two principal public entrance spaces in the Museum: Lenfest Hall and the Great Stair Hall.
 The creation of a new public space, or Forum, immediately below the Great Stair Hall in the center of the U-shaped Museum building. The Forum will dramatically improve circulation on this floor and open up the east-west axis at the center of the building, enabling visitors to reach the new galleries and adjacent public spaces that Gehry Partners have proposed be built below the East Terrace.
 The relocation of a variety of back-office functions to add nearly 23,000 square feet of new gallery space within the existing building; the creation of a new 10,000-square-foot Education Center; and the development of new visitor amenities, including a restaurant, café, and spaces for the Museum Store.
 The creation of 55,000 square feet of new space for the presentation of special exhibitions and works from the collection in galleries underneath the East Terrace. Ranging in height from 24 to 28 feet, with a vaulted ceiling supported on slender columns, these new galleries will be among the largest and most spacious in the entire Museum. Open in plan and filled with natural light, they will provide an ideal setting for the display of modern and contemporary art.
 The reopening of a 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 access to a grand vaulted corridor—part of the original design of the building—that runs 640 feet 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 directly below the Great Stair Hall, thus providing access to the entire building for visitors entering on this level.
 A new 299-seat auditorium equipped for lectures, performances, and public events, to be located underneath the northwest terrace of the main building and directly accessible from the new public entrance facing Kelly Drive.
 The adaptation of the center portion of the top floor of the U-shaped Museum building to create meeting and event spaces, and the replacement of the brick in the pediments with glass to provide dramatic views of the city and Fairmount Park.

Gail Harrity, the Museum’s President and Chief Operating Officer, said: “Given the ambitious scope of the plan, it has been designed in separate phases that can be implemented as funds become available. This work must begin with—and be sustained by—an inspiring and persuasive vision of the future, recognizing that it will take years to implement the brilliant plan developed by Frank Gehry and his partners.”


 October 2006: The Museum announced its selection of Gehry Partners as architects to renovate and expand the neoclassical building on Fairmount. Work began on concept and schematic designs for the renovation and expansion.

 2008:( Following the death of director Anne d’Harnoncourt, work continued on the Master Plan.

 2009: The Museum completed the exterior façade cleaning and repair of the 80-year-old structure, including the restoration of the blue-tiled roof and metalwork and window grilles by Tiffany Studios. In September, the Board of Trustees appointed Timothy Rub as the George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer.

 November 2010: The Board of Trustees authorized Frank Gehry to proceed with design development for future phases to renovate and expand the galleries and other public spaces. The Museum broke ground for the enabling phase of the project: a new 68,000-square-foot Art Handling Facility designed by Gehry Partners, providing much-needed improvements to the back-of-house areas for the care, storage, and movement of the works of art in the Museum’s world-renowned collection.

 December 2013: The Board approved the design development for future phases of the Master Plan, beginning with a core project that will focus on the heart of the building, from Lenfest Hall at the West to the East Entrance, along with other key elements.

 July 1, 2014: The Museum will unveil the designs by Gehry Partners to realize the Master Plan.

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Exhibition Hours:
Tuesday–Sunday: 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.; Wednesday and Friday: 10:00 a.m.–8:45 p.m.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest museums in the United States, with a collection of more than 227,000 works of art. The Museum’s many galleries present painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, decorative arts, textiles, and architectural settings from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Its facilities include a landmark main building; the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building; the Rodin Museum, and two historic houses in Fairmount Park, Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove. The Museum offers a wide variety of activities for public audiences, including special exhibitions, programs for children and families, lectures, concerts, and films. 

For general information, call 215-763-8100, or visit the Museum’s website at

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