The Philadelphia Museum of Art unveils the culmination of two decades of planning, design, and construction: a project by architect Frank Gehry representing a major milestone in the renovation, reorganization, and interior expansion of the museum’s landmark 1928 building.
Called the Core Project because it has focused on the renewal of the museum’s infrastructure and has opened the heart of the main building, the museum has been completed after four years of construction.
The scope of the Core Project comprises nearly 8361 m2 (90,000 sf) of reimagined and newly created space within the main building, all of which is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant and energy efficient. It includes 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 principal entrance to the museum; a new public space, the Williams Forum, which will serve as the setting for a range of activities and will connect the ground floor of the museum to its upper levels; and the Vaulted Walkway, a 195 m (640 ft) long corridor spanning the entire breadth of the building and has not been open to the public for nearly 50 years.
Additionally, areas once devoted to offices, the museum’s restaurant, and retail operation have been converted into two new gallery suites totaling 1858 m2 (20,000 sf) of exhibition space.
Scope of the Core Project
The scope of work has fully preserved the building’s temple-like exterior and picturesque setting, taking place largely within. The museum’s uppermost public levels, the Great Stair Hall, and the third floor have remained largely untouched. Gehry and his team focused downward, to the level of the streets surrounding the hill on which the museum is built, called Fairmount.
Focusing on the lower levels of the museum, the Gehry team opened long-closed or underutilized back-of-house spaces on the first floor and ground level, and returned them, fully restored and re-envisioned, to public use. The lower level, where the building’s electrical and mechanical systems are housed, has also been extensively renovated.
From the outset, Gehry and the museum wanted to honor the building’s original architectural language and materials; notably, they used throughout the same golden-hued Kasota limestone, sourced from the same quarries in a small town in southern Minnesota that supplied it for the construction of the 1928 building.
“The goal in all of our work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been to let the museum guide our hand,” Gehry said. “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.”
While the project renovations feature new galleries and a dramatic multistory ‘forum’ space, they also reveal more of the work of the original architects: Horace Trumbauer and his chief designer, the African American architect Julian Abele; and their partner firm of Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary. For instance, this phase marks the reopening of the entire length of the original Vaulted Walkway, which will take visitors across the building’s entire length from north to south on the ground level.