I am fascinated by both design and community. With this blog I’ll be commenting on architecture and design, community and activism and socio-economic issues of the day. I hope you find these entries interesting and I look forward to your feedback.
I recently visited the remarkable Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. The museum is the ultimate art and architecture experience, housing a world-class collection of work in a beautiful structure.
The museum was originally located in the Philadelphia suburbs and Dr. Albert Barnes emphatically requested that it remain there. However, after his death in 1951 and years of trying to sustain it financially, the foundation decided to move it to the city. In 2012, after 10 years of court battles and fundraising, the museum was moved to Philadelphia, where every gallery was rebuilt to look exactly how it had looked in its original setting. This was an obvious challenge for the architects commissioned to recreate it. While architects are known for following blue prints, this was a unique situation in which they had to craft a new structure under stringent and particular guidelines.
After submissions from several interested and qualified architecture firms, the foundation committee decided on Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. What they went on to create is a seemingly simple, streamlined and beautiful space that is modern, but kept to scale. Though the original museum was recreated, the architects added relief spaces to stretch the building and to manage overflow. These spaces include sitting areas and gardens, giving the museum warmth and pedestrian appeal. The structure’s exterior stone panels were inspired by Dr. Barnes’ affinity for African art. And, other thoughtful materials like limestone from Israel and bronze were incorporated with the utmost consideration. I am completely impressed by what they accomplished; it’s nothing short of poetic, thoughtful and inspiring.
What’s on the inside is as impressive as the exterior. The art collection consisting of 2,500 objects, including 800 paintings, reflects the eclectic taste of Dr. Barnes, and features everything from impressionist to modern to African. And much of it has never been seen anywhere else in the world. Every piece of art is hung like it would be in a home, rather than a gallery, and is punctuated by a piece of ironwork. The paintings are not encased in glass, which makes them all the more accessible. This approach to a museum allows it to feel intimate and lends itself to a more personal experience in which the viewer can profoundly connect with the art.
This experience inspired me as an architect and art lover, and I walked away completely captivated and encouraged.