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Monday, January 19, 2009

Kimbell Art Museum Expansion

Kimbell Art Museum Expansion in Fort Worth, Texas by Renzo Piano Building Workshop

The Kimbell Art Museum, Louis I. Kahn's masterpiece in Fort Worth, Texas, opened to the pubic in 1972. Anticipated to open forty years later is an expansion design by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. Of course this date is less than guaranteed, given the fact that this isn't the first time the Kimbell tried to enlarge its facilities with a post-Kahn building. Twenty years ago the museum faltered when Kahn-colleague Romaldo Giurgola's proposed design was bashed by critics. Kahn's building and the lawn to its west are the primary elements that critics then and now attempt to maintain.

Renzo Piano -- the architect entrusted to design most museum additions in the United States today, from Atlanta's High Museum to this year's Art Institute of Chicago -- has sited the expansion so that it obliterates most of the lawn to the west of Kahn's building and its forecourt. The museum promotes that this decision will mean "once again the majority of visitors will enter as intended," further citing that museum-goers tend to enter through the back door on the east side, opposite Tadao Ando's Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Of course if one speaks of original intentions than the presence of another building does not fit.

With only schematic sections accompanying the site plan, it's difficult to say exactly how Piano's two-story building (one story is below-grade) will shape the new outdoor "room" between the two structures. The solidity of Kahn's concrete vaults and travertine walls will be offset by the transparent walls and floating roof of Piano's design, at least in its current state. Design development will surely elaborate on this and other concerns, though these early drawings illustrate an unsurprising concession to the earlier building, with the new structure fading away into the lawn's green.

One aspect of this blending of building and landscape occurs at the westernmost section of the expansion design, where the grass rolls over part of the new building. Given its footprint (doubling the museum's space) and the site's tapering to the west, the severe reduction in the amount of green space at the Kimbell's front door looks like the ideal opportunity for Piano to extend this rolling landscape to the rest of the roof, just as he did recently at the California Academy of Sciences. Light could then be brought inside via courtyards, as in the Kimbell, linking Piano's design with Kahn's, where the manipulation of light in the service of art created a work of art in and of itself.

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