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The Philadelphia Museum of Art today announced its selection of Frank O. Gehry as architect for a 10-year master plan to dramatically expand the Museum. Gehry is acclaimed for projects ranging from the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain to Disney Hall in Los Angeles, and many other celebrated buildings around the world. In a departure from the sculptural buildings for which the architect is best known, Gehry’s challenge at the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be to create dynamic new spaces for art and visitors alike without disturbing the classic exterior of a building that is already a defining landmark in Philadelphia. The project will add expansive new galleries for contemporary art and special exhibitions by excavating under the Museum’s east terrace on the hill of Fairmount, and will renovate the Museum’s existing interiors to create additional space for the display of its renowned collections. A total of 80,000 square feet of new public space—a 60% increase—is anticipated.
At the Board of Trustees meeting today, H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, stated: “We have asked one of the world’s most respected architects to expand this world-class museum, and we look forward to working with Frank and his talented staff to realize a project that began as a dream and that today, in partnership with the city and the state, can begin to move full steam ahead.”
Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: “It was thrilling to have world-renowned architects respond to our great building and outstanding collections. Frank Gehry’s grasp of the challenge, remarkable track record, and immense creativity were compellingly persuasive. In the end, the decision was based on the exceptional range of Gehry’s accomplishments, his love of art, admiration for our collections, respect for the neoclassical building, and the firm’s success even in smaller projects, such as the renovations to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena where the hand of the architect is discreet yet wonderfully sensitive to the needs of great works of art.”
Gail Harrity, the Museum’s Chief Operating Officer, noted that the selection marks the culmination of the Museum’s master plan that identified the necessity to modernize the aging neoclassical building and greatly expand its capacity for the first time since 1928: “Frank’s extraordinarily elegant use of light and form, his respect for the integrity of existing space and his creative approach to new space will truly transform this landmark Museum building. The proven talent and depth of experience of Gehry’s team brought to bear on the Museum’s master plan assures us that we will meet the needs of the 21st century, both for our growing collections and for all our future visitors.”
In 2005, Board Chairman Lenfest initiated a review process to select an architect for the renovation and expansion of the Museum building on Fairmount. Before making its final selection, the Board considered the work of a wide range of architects, seeking an internationally recognized architect possessing the highest design qualifications, who has had extensive experience in building and expanding art museums.
"I saw this as an opportunity to learn from a legendary museum director and to accept the discipline of producing an important addition to a great institution with minimal exterior intrusion," said Mr. Gehry, who won the Pritzker Prize for Architecture in 1989 and whose most acclaimed projects have followed in the 1990s and 2000s.
An Integrated Building Plan
The brief for the architect is born out of a comprehensive needs assessment and space allocation plan developed by the Museum with the Philadelphia-based firm Vitetta. The first crucial step in the plan was the acquisition of a landmark Art Deco building (now the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building) across the street and its redesign and expansion by Gluckman Mayner Architects. Scheduled to open next year, the Perelman Building will showcase the Museum’s great collections of prints, drawings, and photographs, modern design, costume and textiles, and house the fine arts library, archives, and an education resource center. The second step is to restore the roof and exterior envelope of the neoclassical building on Fairmount, and to create a landscaped sculpture garden over a new 440-car parking garage that will be recessed into the hillside on the West side of the building. Olin Partnership, in collaboration with Atkin Olshin Lawson-Bell Architects, is designing the sculpture garden and garage.
Gehry’s selection is crucial for the remaining phases: expanding the neoclassical building, modernizing the aging infrastructure and building systems, and reclaiming existing spaces for public use. The Museum’s special exhibitions galleries are projected to increase in size by 50%, enabling the Museum to more successfully accommodate a larger number of visitors. The architect will design significantly expanded gallery space for the Museum’s collections, enabling both a broader and richer installation of the Museum’s first-rank holdings and anticipating collections growth.
Contemporary art will vacate the space it currently shares with modern art on the first floor, and will occupy new galleries (adjacent to the special exhibitions space) under the East terrace. These flexible new spaces will be bathed in a combination of daylight and artificial light, contain state-of-the art equipment to make possible a wider array of options for showing film, video, and new media, and will have significantly higher ceiling heights to accommodate large-scale works by such artists as Morris Louis, Cy Twombly, Anselm Kiefer, and Joseph Beuys. The Museum’s deep and distinguished collection of modern art by such masters as Picasso and Matisse will also be shown to much greater advantage than has heretofore been possible.
Expanded galleries for American art will provide additional space for comprehensive collections that are now crowded into relatively small galleries, such as the Museum’s unsurpassed holdings of the decorative arts of Philadelphia and rural Pennsylvania, and for collection strengths that can now be exhibited only in rotation, such as the Museum’s strong holdings of Pennsylvania impressionists (the New Hope School), early American modernism, contemporary crafts, and works by African American artists. For the first time, the Museum will be able to display the remarkable Music Room designed by Wharton Esherick for the Bok House in Gulph Mills and acquired by the Museum after the house was demolished (in 1989).
The Museum’s collection of Asian art, among the oldest and finest in the country, has seen remarkable growth in recent years. Expanded new Asian galleries will enable the Museum to present rarely exhibited and new collections, such as its extensive holdings in Chinese paintings, furniture, and ceramics; Korean paintings and decorative arts; and Japanese art, including large-scale paintings on screens and sliding doors. For the arts of India and the Himalayas, new space will be created to exhibit the folk arts, the decorative and ritual arts of the 17th–20th centuries, and a fine collection of paintings and thankas. North Indian temple sculpture, one of the great strengths of this collection, will enjoy expanded space, and the arts of Tibet and Nepal will have dedicated space for the first time.
The restored and expanded Museum will dramatically enhance the visitor’s experience, and allow the Museum to increase the appeal and diversity of its programs. The new architect’s brief also anticipates public spaces that will serve as crucial “connectors” in the visitor’s overall experience. The magnificent original Great Stair Hall is a prime example of such a space, serving also as an important venue for events of every kind, but there is far more demand than it can meet. Other spaces previously inaccessible to the public in the building will be reopened for the first time in decades, making room for a new Education Center, a larger auditorium and Museum store, a restaurant and cafeteria at street level, and a visitor orientation center. A new public floor will be created on the Kelly Drive level, reclaiming an existing and architecturally spectacular 500 foot-long arcaded hallway for visitor use, moving the loading dock from what originally was a public entrance hall facing Kelly Drive and the Perelman Building, and restoring that space as a major entryway for the public.
“When the program is complete,” added Anne d’Harnoncourt, “the Fairmount building, like the Perelman Building, will be fully modernized and dramatically expanded. The Museum will at last be able to display far more of its collections and will be poised for their continued growth in extraordinary, state-of-the-art buildings that will serve as a magnet for new generations of visitors from the city, the region, the country, and around the world.”