The completion of a multiyear rejuvenation
The historic Rodin Museum and Gardens, opened in 1929 and administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 1939, is renowned for both the beauty of its grounds and architecture, an extraordinary blend of art and nature, and the importance of its holdings—one of the largest collections of works by Auguste Rodin in the world.
In the spirit of its original design, the exterior of the museum and its surrounding garden and landscape have now been rejuvenated. In partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Fairmount Park, the Museum secured support for this initiative in 2008 through generous grants from the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation. Showcasing an urban oasis, the new design was conceived and overseen by OLIN, one of the country’s preeminent landscape-architecture firms. Funded by grants from the William B. Dietrich Foundation and the City of Philadelphia, CVM Construction Managers, Inc. was engaged in 2010 to undertake the comprehensive renewal of the museum’s exterior, serving as historic preservation consultant, structural engineer, and construction manager.
The renovation of the Rodin Museum’s garden and building exterior is both a component of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Master Plan and a part of a larger project to re-imagine and renew the entire Benjamin Franklin Parkway as a preeminent artery for arts and culture and a wellspring for the region’s social and economic vitality. Designed by Jacques Gréber in the early twentieth century to evoke the Champs Élysées in Paris, the Parkway is among the nation’s greatest cultural corridors, connecting the splendor of City Hall to preeminent institutions of art, culture, and learning, crowned by the treasure-filled Philadelphia Museum of Art and the natural glories of Fairmount Park.
Drawing upon the original plans and correspondence of architects Paul Cret and Jacques Gréber, who had been commissioned by Rodin Museum founder Jules Mastbaum in the late 1920s to design, respectively, a neoclassical Beaux Arts building and formal garden for his extensive collection of Rodin’s sculpture, the newly designed garden enhances and amplifies Cret’s and Gréber’s vision. At the same time, OLIN’s renovations highlight the relationship between the museum’s entrance and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, reunifying the 2100 block of the Parkway, where the museum is situated. This new focus creates a nesting effect; the Rodin Museum’s garden sits within the garden of the block, which sits within landscape of the Parkway. The garden now boasts great transparency, as it is fully visible and accessible from the Parkway.
Rejuvenating the entire site with new plantings and much-needed practical improvements, OLIN utilized the French’s designers’ devotion to formality. The garden’s parterres allow the eye to register the symmetry of the courtyard and the significant changes in elevation in the garden, allowing visitors to easily take in its many elements. “The Rodin Museum and its garden were conceived and designed as an integral whole,” notes Joseph J. Rishel, the Dennis and Gisela Alter Senior Curator of European Paintings before 1900, the John G. Johnson Collection, and the Rodin Museum. “The reinstallation of the sculptures outside again reestablishes the original intent of the founders.”
Notes OLIN Partner Susan K. Weiler, “As we were designing the garden, we didn’t see it as divided into sections. It’s all about movement through the entire space: up the stairs, through the gate, into the courtyard, up to the museum. Visitors can take in everything from the east and west gardens to the stairs to the parapet.”
One of the most dramatic changes to the exterior is the return of sculpture to the garden and the façade of the museum building. The Burghers of Calais is now repositioned in the east garden from which it was removed in 1955. Two free-standing, life-sized bronzes, The Age of Bronze and Eve, will be placed in the niches of the museum façade which were originally designed for them. Adam and The Shade will also find new homes in the garden. The presence of these five works with The Thinker at the Parkway entrance and The Gates of Hell at the doorway to the museum will allow the site to serve, as originally intended, as a frame for enjoying Rodin’s large-scale figurative sculptures.
OLIN’s design pays homage to the simplicity and complexity of both Gréber and Cret, who, according to Weiler, “understood the integration of architecture and landscape” as well as “boldness and detail,” as evidenced by Gréber ‘s Parkway design as one grand gesture that utilizes repeating elements of small pools and hedges to define smaller spaces. “I appreciate the fact that they were trying to make Philadelphia the city it should be. They set the framework for the city. Now, it is coming to fruition.”
Combining key features of an original design with essential renovations and upgrades
Interior Courtyard Garden
• Interior garden regrading, including enhanced accessibility for all pathways
• Repair and restoration of garden walls, stairs, and reflecting pool
• Replacement of all bluestone and stone fine paving
• Restoration of all limestone paving
• Selective removal and pruning of shrubs
• Planting of trees, shrubs, and perennials within the garden
• A new water-efficient irrigation system for all new plantings
• New garden lighting
• New fence and gates at east and west gardens
• Restoration of limestone pedestal and placement of The Burghers of Calais in the east garden
Exterior Garden Landscape Improvements
• Restoration of all exterior lawn areas
• Installation of service stairs, walls, curbs, and exterior pathways
• Installation of rear drive accessible entry and retaining wall
• Planting of trees, shrubs, and groundcover between perimeter iron fence and exterior paths
• Planting of buffering trees along rear drive, including a row of native Willow Oaks
• Water-efficient irrigation for all new plantings
• Restoration of Meudon Gate and terrace
Exterior Site Landscaping and Site Improvements
• New and accessible pathways, integrating the garden landscape and improving the connection to Parkway sidewalks
• New zoned and independently controlled pathway and site lighting
• New benches and trash receptacles
• New subsurface stormwater retention and drainage system
• Selective pruning of existing canopy trees
• Selective planting of new canopy and flowering trees
• Parkway enhancements, including improved drainage between 21st and 22nd Streets
• New benches and trash receptacles along Parkway sidewalk at front entry
• Planting of flowering shrubs and groundcover at front entry
• Replacement of declining trees along Parkway between 21st and 22nd Streets and
at front entry
Building Envelope Restoration
The project included an extensive and detailed restoration of the building exterior and complete replacement of the original 82 year-old roof. Based on the original Cret and Gréber documents, and working closely with PMA’s Conservation Department, engineers and preservation specialists from CVM developed a comprehensive program to clean, repair, and refurbish the building exterior. Work included:
• Cleaning and re-pointing of limestone facades
• Repair and patching of limestone facades and balconies
• Reconstruction of south parapet, including refurbishing of structural steel
• Restoration of original metalwork, including railings and gates
• New elastomeric membrane roof and replacement of all lead-coated copper flashings
• New limestone paving at North Entry
• Replacement of primary electrical service
• Refurbishing of parapet balusters and limestone caps
As an integral part of the garden and landscape rejuvenation project, the stone entrance to the Rodin Museum, known as the Meudon Gate, has been restored. The gate— modeled after the 18th-century façade at Château d’Issy, which Rodin had installed at his property at Meudon, France—is a significant feature both on the grounds and as viewed from the Parkway. It has now been cleaned to remove the vehicular grime and pollution that has accumulated during the past 80 years. It has also been re-pointed and its stone repaired where necessary, and its large French wrought-iron gates, fashioned in Paris in 1926-7 after a circa 1700 model, have been cleaned, restored, and coated as well. Two flights of limestone steps leading to the museum entrance have been replaced using new stone quarried in France. Improvements include:
• Stone façade cleaning and repair
• Historic metalwork conservation and restoration
• Plumbing and electrical repair
• Roof repair
• Repair and replacement of terrace paving and stone steps
• Installation of new lighting
A new planting plan for the interior courtyard garden and the areas surrounding the Museum has been implemented in close coordination with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The plan for the outer areas creates a vista to spotlight the courtyard and museum building from the Parkway, with plantings that include native species used in the original design: a mix of Viburnums, Fragrant Sumac, Bush Honeysuckle, Sweetspire, Summersweet, American Beautyberry, Fothergilla, Oakleaf Hydrangea, and winter-blooming Witch Hazel. Above this shrub layer will be a low canopy of flowering trees: Saucer and Sweetbay Magnolias, Carolina Silverbells, and Japanese Scholartrees. Within the interior courtyard, a formal perennial garden offers Aster, Cupid’s Dart, Coreopsis, Cardinal Flower, Lavender, and Phlox with a wide variety of fragrance and seasonal display. Color, texture, and variety of plants, changing throughout the seasons, will contribute to draw the visitor into the gardens year-round.
The Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Coinciding with the Rodin Museum garden and landscape renovations, the north and south sides of the Parkway streetscape between 21st Street and Eakins Oval are being enhanced through pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular circulation improvements. Curb extensions, or “bump outs,” will minimize pedestrian crossing distances, and a widened central median will be created through strategic parking and traffic lane configurations. A clearly marked bicycle lane will be provided. Tour bus loading and unloading for the Rodin Museum will be accommodated on 22nd Street. New paving and furnishings will be installed based on Fairmount Park’s publication, The Benjamin Franklin Parkway Design Guidelines for Public Environs. Fairmount Park has retained Lager Raabe Skafte Landscape Architects, the author of the guidelines, as the designers for the Parkway streetscape improvements.
• Arborist: The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania
• Cost Consulting: Becker & Frondorf
• Civil & Site Electrical Engineer: Pennoni Associates Inc.
• Structural Engineer: CVM Engineers, Inc.
• Geotechnical Engineer: GAI Consultants Inc.
• Lighting Design: The Lighting Practice
• Irrigation Design: Lynch & Associates, LTD.
• Specifications: Wilson Consulting Inc.
CVM Construction Managers, Inc. sub-consultants
• Electrical: Arrow Electric Services, Inc
• Masonry restoration and paving: Dan Lepore & Sons Company
• Roofing: EDA Contractors, Inc.
• Irrigation Green Estates Lawn Sprinklers, Inc.
• Site and civil: JPC Group, Inc
• Restoration and conservation: Milner + Carr Conservation, LLC
• Concrete: R.P. Concrete
• Metals: Robert H. Benedix
• Scaffolding: Safway Services, LLC.
• Arborist: The F. A. Bartlett Tree Expert Company
• Landscaping: Townscapes, Inc.
• Metal restoration: Vintage Metalwork, Inc.