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Barnes Design (Non)Update: “On Schedule” (Two Years Late); “On Budget” (Doubtful)

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Derek Gillman, president and executive director, Barnes Foundation

The design plans of architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien for the the Barnes Foundation’s new Philadelphia facility, which were to have been announced in late 2008 (according to this report by the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s architecture critic, Inga Saffron) and were subsequently expected to be released last spring, will now be delayed until the fall, according to this week’s report from Barnes’ president and executive director, Derek Gillman.

In the foundation’s latest E-Newsletter, Gillman states:

We are making very good progress with designs for the new Barnes Foundation campus on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. We are on schedule [not really; see below] and on budget [maybe, maybe not] to begin the building foundation work in late fall, and complete construction by the end of 2011.

I am pleased to report that we are through the design development phase and are now beginning construction documentation. During the summer we shall be continuing with the City approvals process, and will release the design to you in the fall….

I also remind everyone that we intend to house our world-renowned art collection in galleries that will replicate the scale, proportion, and configuration of the existing gallery in Merion. The new building will also provide increased space for art education, which is at the heart of the Barnes mission, with classrooms and an auditorium for additional programs that can be taught alongside the traditional, analytic Barnes courses in the galleries.

In addition, the new building includes facilities for painting conservation, research and administration, as well as areas for special events and much improved visitor services. We will also have a special exhibition space near to the permanent galleries that will allow us to display works that are not part of our permanent collection.

I have seen no reports about what the designs look like, and I don’t understand why plans that have been submitted for city approval are not easily accessible to journalists and the interested public. Aren’t government records public documents, or is Philadelphia untouched by Sunshine Laws? (This calls for an Inga inquiry!)

As for the “on schedule” part, not only are they late in releasing information about the building’s design, but in February 2007, Gillman had told me that the hoped-for completion date for construction was 2009—a goal that has now been pushed back by two years. I wouldn’t be surprised if “on budget” (originally $100 million, with an additional $100 million to be raised for endowment) has been similarly rejiggered. Here’s what Barnes spokesperson Andrew Stewart told me yesterday, in response to my query:

We will release the construction costs with the design in the fall when they are finalized. So far $156 million [for construction and endowment] has been raised.

an ArtsJournal blog