Return to Previous Page


September 14th, 2009
Museum Opens New Sculpture Garden to the Public


When it opens to the public on September 15, the new Sculpture Garden on the west side of the Museum, facing Kelly Drive and overlooking the Schuylkill River, will offer visitors an aesthetic experience that is at once a sequence of galleries without walls and a sculpted expanse of landscape art.

The one-acre site also offers an engaging dialogue with many other spectacular features of Fairmount Park, including the Azalea Garden, Boathouse Row, Lemon Hill Mansion, the Waterworks and the newly restored gazebo on the rock escarpment high above the river. Designed by OLIN landscape architects working with Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, the garden further unites the Museum to surrounding areas of the park with its rolling contours, sculpted terraces, and landscaping.

“The Sculpture Garden allows the Museum to expand its gallery space into a natural setting that is at once receptive to art and a work of landscape art in itself,” said Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director-elect and Chief Executive Officer. “While providing new exhibition areas, the garden also functions as a green roof for the Museum’s 442-car parking garage, which visitors may not immediately notice to be under the garden.”

“Along with the opening of the Perelman Building in 2007, the Sculpture Garden presents another milestone for the Museum’s Master Plan,” said Gail Harrity, Interim Chief Executive Officer. “We are particularly proud that the project accomplishes multiple goals at once, offering much-needed parking for our visitors and new opportunities for the appreciation of art.”

Sculptural in its form and design, the garden will ultimately host a rotating schedule of outdoor installations in two gallery areas. Isamu Noguchi at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, opening September 15, is the initial display in a developing program of exhibitions. Some of the five stone sculptures by Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) are situated on grassy hills that were shaped for the garden, while others seem to emerge from the ground in areas where the lawn dips gracefully.

The project team, led by Robert Morrone and Al Shaikoli of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, included Michael Schade and Tony Atkin of Atkin Olshin Schade architects, Laurie Olin and Susan Weiler of OLIN landscape architects, Jeffrey Hutwelker and Joseph Amicone of LF Driscoll Construction managers, and a host of design consultants and construction contractors.

Contours and Design
More than 1000 boulders excavated from the hillside during construction have been repositioned into landscaped terraces that contribute to the shape of the garden. The stones, taken from the previous terraces that were placed around the Museum during the 1920s, now form embankments between the garden and Fairmount Park, echoing the nearby rock escarpment leading down to the Waterworks along the Schuylkill River. They also define sections in the garden, separating the upper and lower lawns and much of the garden’s perimeter.

One enters from the Upper Lawn, accessed from Museum Drive or from the glass pavilion containing elevators to the four parking levels below. There is also a staircase leading up from the garden’s southern edge. The garden is divided into five sections, including three hard-surface terraces and two lawn areas. In close collaboration with Atkin Olshin Schade and CVM, the structural engineers, OLIN designed plantings that alternately punctuate and soften the garden’s structure and also sustain native wildlife of the park. Trees, shrubs and perennials were chosen to provide a variety of flowering and fruiting displays, as well as resonant fall color and a strong assertion of structure in winter. The sweeps of shrubs and perennials also provide a multi-textured backdrop for the sculpture.

Upper Lawn
Visible from the Museum’s West Entrance, the highest hill in the garden acts as an accent to the glass pavilion that serves as the garage’s entryway and offers a dramatic platform for display. The rooftop soil levels vary in depth from one to four feet; areas of deepest soil deposits support large canopy trees such as Tulip Poplars in the garden’s Upper Level. Above the embankment dividing it from the Lower Lawn is a sweetly scented Katsura, while Tupelo trees, which turn a deep crimson, join clusters of understory Parrotia and Pagoda Dogwood trees nearby. Flowering shrubs add fragrance from late February through early May, with species including Witch Hazel, Fothergilla, Sweetspire, Bayberry, Summer Sweet, and Flame Azalea. Christmas Fern, Autumn Fern, and Foamflower, all native understory plants, also flower during winter months, while Sweet Flag and Plumbago further extend the season of interest.

Lower Lawn
The Lower Lawn runs roughly parallel to Kelly Drive and the Azalea Garden, framed by stone embankments and extensively planted beds. The beds contain a mix of native flowering understory trees such as a variety of dogwoods, Fringe Tree, and Sweet Bay Magnolia, which provide a long season of bloom, as well as fall color and winter fruit for wildlife. Below the trees are planted a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, flowering perennials and grasses, softening the wall facing Kelly Drive and framing the exceptional overlooks at either end.

Upper Terrace
The Upper Terrace is a 15-foot-square area paved in stone fines and overlooking the Waterworks and the river. A grove of Honey Locusts offers dappled shade at the overlook. The embankments that define the north and south sides of the terrace are planted with Climbing Hydrangea and Boston Ivy, which leave a structured, delicate tracery in winter and provide summer flowers and a brilliant red color that contrasts during fall with the golden yellow of the Honey Locusts.

East Terrace
This space is articulated by a row of stones forming a natural transition from the upper levels to the Lower Lawn, and by another terrace embankment leading down in the direction of the Azalea Garden. The East Terrace is planted with a grove of Yellowwoods that extends into the adjacent lawn. The terrace offers views of the Museum’s Perelman and main buildings, and overlooks the Sycamores along Kelly Drive below.

Fountain Terrace
This terrace promontory contains paving stones of Brazilian granite and a water feature: The water flows gently in sheets along concrete walls on two sides, echoing the sound of the nearby Schuylkill waterfall, and reminiscent of the Fairmount reservoir. The Fountain Terrace provides views to the Italian Fountain, the Azalea Garden, Lemon Hill, and the Schuylkill Valley, and offers a vantage point from which to appreciate the Piedmont terrain that begins in Fairmount Park and extends west.

Terraced Wall Plantings
Terraced stone embankments are filled with plantings intended to blend, soften, and interact with neighboring landscapes. To the north along Kelly Drive, a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs fill the embankments, with ground cover consisting of grasses and ferns, with some flowering perennials planted along the edges. Clematis and Virginia Creeper will eventually cascade over the walls, with Winter Jasmine and providing additional texture. The plantings around the Museum Drive entrance to the garage are filled with a combination of deciduous and evergreen shrubs and perennials, with a greater proportion of flowering perennials and fragrant shrubs and trees.

Environmental Improvements:
In July 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office presented the Museum with its first Leading By Example certificate of excellence, recognizing the Museum for “Leading By Example by providing leadership in developing a truly remarkable and innovative design that incorporates energy efficiencies and protects the waters of Philadelphia.” A green area measuring 26,000 square feet replaces more than one-half acre of impervious surfaces with natural storm-water management systems utilizing materials such as soil, grass, gravel and permeable, handicapped-accessible paving, to naturally filter storm water run-off to the Schuylkill River. A vegetated swale receives and filters any run-off overflow. The project also included an extensive reparation and reinforcement of existing wastewater facilities, diverting wastewater outflow to eliminate Schuylkill River contamination. The parking garage is naturally ventilated, which eliminated the need for mechanical exhaust fans, and natural light has been utilized where possible, reducing lighting costs and waste.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the largest museums in the United States, with a collection of more than 227,000 works of art and more than 200 galleries presenting painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, decorative arts, textiles, and architectural settings from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Its facilities include its landmark Main Building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Perelman Building, located nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Rodin Museum on the 2200 block of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and two 18th-century 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 additional information, contact the Communications Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art phone at 215-684-7860, by fax at 215-235-0050, or by e-mail at pressroom@philamuseum.org. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For general information, call (215) 763-8100.

Return to Previous Page