Philadelphia Museum of Art opens new store
In a gathering attended by Mayor Jim Kenney, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia Dr. William Hite, museum officials, and architect Frank Gehry, 28 second graders from the Bache-Martin School became the first members of the public to pass once again through an historic street-level entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art today. This moment marked an important milestone in the realization of the museum’s Facilities Master Plan: the reopening of architecturally significant spaces that have been out of the public eye for many decades, along with the opening of a new museum store.
Accompanied by a burst of confetti and a trumpet solo by Arnetta Johnson, the opening reactivated a grand entrance lobby with ceiling heights of more than 24 feet and a rich array of architectural features, as well as a section of the museum’s storied Vaulted Walkway — its arched ceiling clad in newly restored Guastavino tiles.
Within these spaces the museum unveiled several new amenities: Gehry-designed admission and information desks, a coat check, a new museum store, an espresso bar, a seminar room, and a dedicated educational studio for children. In total, 22,000 square feet of space has been recovered for public use. By fall 2020, when the Core Project—the present phase of the Facilities Master Plan—is completed, more than 90,000 square feet of renovated space will be open to visitors.
“We are reclaiming part of Philadelphia’s history and one of Philadelphia’s most unforgettable interiors. The renovation we see today will be breathtaking for a new generation of Philadelphians, and our administration is proud to support this public-private partnership because a strong and vibrant art museum is not only a vital cultural and educational resource but also a productive investment in our city’s future. Today is truly a milestone, and a harbinger of exciting things to come,” stated Mayor Kenney.
The new 2,600 square-foot store has been relocated from the first floor to make way for new galleries of American art, opening next year. From the North Lobby, visitors may now enter the Main Store at street level, passing through a pair of monumental Tiffany doors, historic to the museum and newly conserved; in a dramatic note, Gehry requested that they be placed at the threshold to the store. In a wall dividing the store from the walkway, the architect also created a bank of large rectilinear openings, capturing reflected daylight and increasing transparency within the interior. Other contemporary touches by the architect include selection of red oak flooring and finishes in Douglas fir and bronze on the cashier’s desk. These elements echo the treatment of the dining facilities, Stir and the Café, which opened on the first floor last year. Two additional store locations are planned for the first floor, adjacent to Lenfest Hall and opening next year.
“This part of the project reveals, perhaps more than anything else, Frank Gehry’s genius as a planner. The largest investment in this phase of the Facilities Master Plan is the upgrade and installation of new building systems, all of which are hidden from public view, and yet are vital to preserving the collections, for future generations to enjoy,” said Gail Harrity, president and chief operating officer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The reopening of the North Entrance, and the rejuvenation of 22,000 square feet of space so far within it, is the latest step in the realization of the Core Project, which was officially launched in 2017. The project will ultimately open to the public a total 90,000 square feet of interior space, including 23,000 square feet of new gallery space. Today’s North Entrance reopening reflects significant progress on the key goals of the museum’s Facilities Master Plan: to free up as much possible interior space for public use; to restore and reopen architecturally significant spaces that have long been hidden from view; to enhance the visitor experience; and to upgrade infrastructure and systems.
The aging structure also required significant attention to features the team wanted to let recede from public view, leading to the placement of extensive networks of piping under floors and planning to enable maximum ceiling heights. For its public-facing features, Gehry Partners paid close attention to the warm tones of the original Kasota stone, spotlighting historic doors and columns and matching existing features with complementary ones, creating subtle contemporary notes. The finishes, notably bronze, glass, wood, and stone, convey warmth and luminosity.
For more information on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, visit www.philamuseum.org.