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Piano’s Design for Kimbell Museum Revealed

November 18, 2008

By David Dillon

Renzo Piano
Photo © Robert LaPrelle/courtesy Kimbell Art Museum
Renzo Piano sketching under the west porticos of the Kimbell Art Museum.

Twenty years ago, Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum announced a major expansion, and promptly got stuffed by critics, architects, and the public. “Hands off Louis Kahn’s masterpiece” was the outraged response, and the Kimbell quickly abandoned the idea.

Now it is back with a new $70 million scheme that is more respectful of the Kahn building and, it hopes, less politically toxic. Designed by Renzo Piano and unveiled today, November 18, it calls for a two-story steel and glass pavilion on the sweeping lawn to the west of the existing museum, which opened in 1972. The pavilion will be used primarily for temporary exhibitions, doubling the amount of gallery space and reserving the original building for the institution’s extraordinary permanent collection. Currently the Rembrandts, Cezannes, and Picassos go into storage whenever a major traveling show comes to town.

Beyond galleries, the 90,000-square-foot addition will contain studios, classrooms, a library, and an auditorium, mostly located below grade or tucked into a grassy berm to the rear of the site. Visitors will enter through an underground parking garage and then gradually make their way across the lawn, past trees and fountains, to the original building—the procession from nature to art and back again that Louis Kahn originally envisioned. “I am delighted with Renzo’s design, and the way, physically and symbolically, he has connected the Kimbell’s past and future,” says Kay Fortson, president of the Kimbell Art Foundation, which funds the museum.

Image ©  Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Designed by Renzo Piano, the two-story steel and glass pavilion will be located just west of the existing museum by Louis Kahn.

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Fortson, niece of museum founder Kay Kimbell, was the prime mover in selecting Renzo Piano in 2006. Piano was a known quantity with no baggage, having worked with Louis Kahn in the 1960s and subsequently designing three museums in Texas, including the acclaimed Nasher Sculpture Center in cultural competitor Dallas. Plus he had the blessing of the Kahn family, who had loudly denounced architect Romaldo Giurgola’s obsequious 1988 design. “I doubt we could do better than Renzo,” Kahn’s daughter, Sue Ann Kahn, says of the choice. “He knows Texas; he’ll ponder the relationship of old and new. You can’t beat those odds.”

The preliminary scheme establishes the location, basic form, and palette of the addition, with most of the details, including cladding and green features, still to come. Construction is expected to begin in 2010, with an opening in 2012.  

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