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Gehry-Designed Philly Museum Reno Now Open

Thursday, May 13, 2021

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Last week, the Philadelphia Museum of Art unveiled to the public new galleries and public spaces from a years-long renovation led by architect Frank Gehry.

Dubbed the “Core Project,” the work focused on the renewal of the museum’s original 1928 infrastructure and included renovation, reorganization and interior expansion.

Some Background

Gehry had been involved with the renovation of Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele’s 1928 Beaux Arts building since 2006 when his Los Angeles-based firm was hired by former museum director Anne d’Harnoncourt to develop the museum’s master plan.

At the time, Gehry recalled d’Harnoncourt asking him to complete similar work like he’d previously completed at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, but that he would be restricted to only the inside of the Philadelphia-based museum.

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Last week, the Philadelphia Museum of Art unveiled to the public new galleries and public spaces from a years-long renovation led by architect Frank Gehry.

“Nice challenge,” Gehry said. I had just done the other, so I thought, 'Why not? Let's try.’”

The construction—managed by LF Driscoll Company LLC—involved the removal of the museum’s auditorium, opening up a new main, multi-level space called “the Forum,” which plans to serve as a place for public gatherings. A new staircase was also planned to pass through and connect visitors to the 640-foot-long vaulted walkway above (the repurposed loading dock).

The west terrace was rebuilt to integrate ramps to the reopened north entrance. Also added in the interior were new classrooms, art studios, a restaurant, café, meeting rooms and new art galleries. In total, Gehry’s planned transformation involved 67,000 square feet of new public space, 11,500 square feet of gallery space and another 11,500 square feet of contemporary art display space.

The $196 million Core Project plan added a grand total of 90,000 square feet to the 100-year-old museum and is the second part of Gehry’s three-phase Facilities Master Plan. The first project was a new Art Handling Facility, which was completed in 2012.

The Master Plan is part of a bigger effort in the “It Starts Here: Campaign for the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” which will allow the museum to “achieve ambitious goals in education and public programming, improved access and community outreach, and the innovative use of new technologies to fulfill its mission and more effectively engage the next generation of audiences, locally as well as internationally,” according to the press release.

The fundraising campaign is the largest in Philadelphia’s history, according to the museum, and in 2017 was reported to have raised $326 million of its $525-million goal.

In the fall of 2019, the new north entrance and hallway, which had been closed to visitors since 1975 when it was repurposed as a loading dock for the nation’s bicentennial, was reopened to the public.

The Completed Space

The project included a rebuilt West Terrace, now the Robbi and Bruce Toll Terrace, with integrated ramps to facilitate access for all visitors; a renovated Lenfest Hall, which has served as the main entrance to the museum; a new public space, the Williams Forum, which will serve as the setting for a wide range of activities and will connect the ground floor of the museum to its upper levels; and the Vaulted Walkway, a 640-foot long corridor that spans the entire breadth of the building and has not been open to the public for nearly 50 years.

Additionally, an office area, restaurant and retail space has been converted to two new gallery suites, totaling about 20,000 square feet.

The work set out to fully preserve the building’s exterior, and Gehry aimed to honor the building’s “originally architectural language and materials,” by using the golden-hued Kasota limestone throughout.

“The goal in all of our work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been to let the museum guide our hand,” said Gehry. “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.”


Tagged categories: Frank Gehry; Maintenance + Renovation; Museums; Museums; NA; North America; Renovation

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