CultureGrrl

Kimbell Museum to Construct Piano Building Beside Kahn’s Masterpiece UPDATED TWICE


The lawn to the west of the Kimbell Art Museum, site of its planned Renzo Piano building

The Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, has opted to court controversy with plans (to be announced at a 9 a.m. press conference today) that will plant a new 90,000-square-foot, Renzo Piano-designed building just west of Louis Kahn‘s 120,000-square-foot 1972 masterpiece.

According to the press release (not online at this writing):

Mr. Piano’s new building subtly mirrors
the Kahn building in height and scale and in the span of the façade, as well as in its tripartite
plan and use of travertine and concrete as primary materials. From its glazed front, which faces
Kahn’s stately stone-clad portico, the roof of the addition gently recedes under a berm at the
rear….

[Piano’s plan] restores the
threshold experience of the Kahn museum to Kahn’s original vision, so that once again the
majority of visitors will enter as intended through the main west entrance and tree-lined
court, flanked by pools and vaulted porticos. In recent years most museumgoers have entered
through the back door on the east side because of parking requirements.

Plans are still preliminary and, to my knowledge, there are no detailed renderings yet available for the press of what the building will look like. But here is Piano’s site plan, showing where the new building will be located in relation to the original one. The gray rectangle in the center is the Kimbell; the gray area to its left is the planned building. Tadao Ando‘s Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is located in the top right corner of this triangular site.:

Back in April 2007, when an expansion to be designed by Piano was announced under the administration of former director Timothy Potts, the press release had stated:

The addition will comprise a separate building located across the street from the current Museum, on land acquired in 1998. [That scruffy site is in the lower right corner of the above triangle.]

An even earlier plan under director Ted Pillsbury to add an extension by Romaldo Giurgola to Kahn’s building aroused such strong opposition that it was abandoned. In a 1989 letter to the NY Times, nine prominent architects and architectural historians had called that plan “a disservice not only to Kahn’s memory and to the wishes of the museum’s founders, but also to American culture as a whole.” They added that the expansion would deprive Kahn’s structure of “the intensity of its present situation in relation to the park.”

Speaking of that park: Reporting last August on a lively discussion about the Kimbell expansion at the Dallas Architectural Forum, Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News wrote:

Although it’s a
sort of dead space between the Kimbell and the Amon Carter Museum up
the hill, the lawn is much beloved by Fort Worth residents. And many
locals feel the Kimbell should not compromise either Kahn’s building or
the lawn by attaching a new structure to the old.

Although the new building will be occupy the lawn, it will not (under current plans) be attached to the old, except for an underground tunnel for transporting art. The public will step outside to get from one building to
the other.

Quoted in the press release, Malcolm Warner, the Kimbell’s acting director, argues that the new plan “echoes Kahn’s early vision for the Kimbell, in which the museum was to be much larger and extend into the area the new building will occupy.” (Speaking of Warner, acting director for more than a year, when will the Kimbell board name him, or someone else, as permanent director?)

The new two-story, three-bay building will contain new galleries for special exhibitions—an improvement desperately needed by a museum that must take down its superlative permanent collection whenever it opens a major temporary exhibition. The new building will also have an education center, library and auditorium.

Hard costs for construction are expected to total $70 million, all funded by the Kimbell Art Foundation itself. Groundbreaking is projected for late 2010; the hoped-for opening is in 2012.

Below is an aerial view of the site as it appears now. The Kimbell is the structure with the barrel-vaulted roof in the center; the verdant area behind it is the planned contruction site; the greenish area in the left center of the photograph, in front of the Kimbell, is the museum-purchased site formerly considered, under Potts, for a Piano annex:


Let the architectural and land-use debates begin!

UPDATE: Gaile Robinson of DFW.com (part of the website of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) has more details this morning, including interactive graphics that give some idea of the tentative plans for the arrangement of the interior spaces of the new building. She also tells us about plans for the lot across the street that the Kimbell had previously acquired for its expansion:

Kimbell officials have said the Darnell Street auditorium will
eventually be demolished and some of the parking lots removed so the
Frisbee players and dog walkers will have an expanse of park-like lawn
on which to play.

I suppose this is the museum’s way of compensating for taking away the parkland on its other side.

SECOND UPDATE
: Jerome Weeks, ArtsJournal‘s book/daddy blogger and producer/reporter for KERA, the NPR/PBS station for Dallas-Fort Worth (for which he produced this today about the new Kimbell proposal), wrote to remind me that “it wasn’t just architects and art historians who protested the 1989 Kimbell expansion proposal. It was also Kahn’s widow.”

But in her letter to the NY Times, the architect’s widow seemed to favor a plan similar to what is now being proposed by Piano. Esther Kahn wrote:

If more space is needed, there is room on the site for a separate building, which could be connected to the present museum,