The Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building
With its gleaming rows of windows, bright interior, and twin cathedral-like entrances, the landmark Art Deco building on Fairmount and Pennsylvania Avenue was called “the Gateway to Fairmount Park” when it opened in 1928 as the headquarters for the Fidelity Life Insurance Company. Today, it is being dramatically recast in a new role as the gateway to the future for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the first phase of a master plan to dramatically expand and update the Museum. When it opens in 2007, visitors from all over the region, across the country and abroad will experience the renovated and expanded Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building as a major new public destination.
Set within a lively urban neighborhood, commanding a spectacular view of Fairmount Park and just across the street from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the building will showcase some of the Museum’s most comprehensive, colorful and cutting edge collections in elegant new galleries and offer a variety of other welcoming spaces and wonderful new amenities. Among them will be a library open to the public and offering a wealth of resources including ever-changing displays of rare books, precious documents and graphic arts, a 100-seat café overlooking a landscaped terrace, a new bookstore, a soaring skylit walkway and a succession of other spaces in which to stroll, linger and explore the visual arts.
For the first time ever, the expansion will provide urgently needed space for the display, study, conservation, and future growth of the Museum’s large and distinguished collections of Costume and Textiles, Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and an ample new gallery for Modern and Contemporary Design; as well as housing a high-tech and accessible Library, Archives, and Educational Resource Center. The Museum’s acquisition and renovation of the Perelman Building will also enable expanded future exhibition space and visitor amenities across the street.
“The Museum’s collections began to outgrow available space in our great neo-classical building more than a quarter of a century ago, and the Perelman Building represents the first giant step forward in our plan to dramatically expand the opportunities we offer to the public for encounters with works of art,” explains Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “The spectacular exterior, with its crown of gilded ceramic figures of owls and squirrels and other ornamental detail by the great Art Deco sculptor, Lee Lawrie, will be complemented by the interior renovation expertly designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects. As you move inside, it will have an airy, contemporary feel. The renewed building will be a celebration of space and light, and springing from that will be many new opportunities to delight and inspire our visitors.”
Gail Harrity, Chief Operating Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, adds: “The Perelman Building marks the first expansion of the Museum’s footprint since 1928, the year our building was completed at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It will also provide the first expansion of gallery space since 1977, when the Kienbusch Galleries for Arms and Armor opened to the public. This is an important milestone in our Master Plan to expand and modernize the entire Museum over the next 10 to 15 years.”
The Perelman Building occupies a two-acre site bordered by Pennsylvania Avenue, 25th Street, Fairmount Avenue, and 26th Street in Philadelphia. It faces the Philadelphia Museum of Art building across Kelly Drive and is among the most distinctive architectural structures near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, featuring one of the city’s most elaborate Art Deco facades.
In 2001, Gluckman Mayner Architects was selected for the Perelman project. In October 2004, following a groundbreaking celebration, the major construction began in earnest and the original building has been expanded by a 59,000 square foot new addition. As a focus for learning, connoisseurship, and sheer enjoyment of works of art, the Perelman Building will be an important catalyst for the Philadelphia region’s ongoing cultural renaissance. High school teachers, college students, independent scholars, and faculty from Philadelphia’s many colleges, art schools, and universities will also find extraordinary new resources awaiting them at the Perelman Building, including study centers for costume and textiles and prints, drawings, and photographs that offer rare opportunities for first-hand engagement with works of art in collaboration with Museum staff.
New Galleries and More Art on View
Among the most enticing features will be six new galleries in which to showcase the collections. As visitors pass under the elaborate arch facing Fairmount Avenue, they will enter a beautifully preserved entrance lobby that offers a variety of choices. Straight ahead, visitors may stroll into the new addition with the café, skylit galleria, and a suite of galleries devoted to photographs, to costume and textiles, and to modern and contemporary design. Or turning left from the lobby, they could enter a rotunda adjoining the museum shop and leading into the expansive gallery for changing installations, which extends the entire length of the Pennsylvania Wing. The handsome staircase or an elevator from the lobby to the second floor will take visitors to the new library reading room with its views of the park and city. Walking past the Wachovia Education Resource Center, in which teachers from all over the region will find art information to help them prepare their classes, they will find treasures on view in the study gallery for costume and textiles.
What will the new galleries showcase? That is currently a subject of intense discussion among curators as they plan for the opening. ‘”The new spaces will offer so many opportunities to show remarkable objects that many of our visitors have never seen before,” says d’Harnoncourt. “In Costume and Textiles, you might find a survey of American quilts or samplers, or textiles from China, India, or Japan, followed by works created in Philadelphia’s famous Fabric Workshop. In the gallery for photography, you might find a selection of images by Alfred Stieglitz, Robert Frank, or Sebastiao Salgado, or recent work by young Philadelphia photographers. In Modern and Contemporary Design, we will finally have space to showcase objects created in the last 100 years that apply boundless imagination to the issues of form and function. The opportunities for showing sculpture from all cultures and periods will be so much greater than we have had before. We could even present an entire newly acquired collection. The exciting thing is that there will be so many options.”
The capacious gallery extending alongside Pennsylvania Avenue is especially well-suited to sculpture because natural light is cast so generously by its succession of large, arched windows facing the main Museum building and the park. The space will be dedicated to changing special exhibitions, easily accessed from the lobby and convenient to the nearby café, and can be darkened for video installations as desired.
Another highlight of Richard Gluckman’s design is the skylit galleria some thirty-five-feet high, 200-feet long and widening to twenty feet across as it meets the lobby and café. With its terrazzo floor and tilted, corbelled wall, this new space connects the addition with two bridges to the original building along the length of the pre-existing, north-facing exterior brick façade. It will provide dramatic space for a variety of works of art, with a succession of four tall alcoves presenting special opportunities for display.
The new library, four times its present size, will occupy two levels. The second floor reading room extends above the Pennsylvania Avenue gallery and also benefits from a succession of south facing windows that offer generous views. The public will have access to one of the finest collections of art books and periodicals in the region.
The Wachovia Education Resource Center will provide a wealth of art information on the Museum’s collections in particular and the visual arts in general to teachers, who will always be able to use the center free of charge, as they plan their curricula, drawing upon its resources for their students in every field.
The Museum Café, seating 100 people, will offer light fare and will open onto a terrace, giving it a spacious indoor-outdoor feeling.
A First Dramatic Step in the Master Plan
The Perelman Building will be a major feature of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the twenty-first century, the first dramatic step forward for the Museum’s expansion, which will continue with added galleries in the Parkway building, especially for American Art, Asian Art and Contemporary Art. The new space provided by the Perelman Building will also better enable the Museum to reconsider the use of the existing building. As the Museum responds to the full scope of its potential for collections and visitors, it will also build a landscaped parking garage on the west side off Kelly Drive and undertake much-needed infrastructure improvements throughout the 1928 building.