The Barnes Foundation
Tod Williams Billie Tsien
Together with landscape architect Laurie Olin, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have conceived a "Gallery in a Garden, Garden in a Gallery" that honors the original Barnes facility and provides visitors with a highly personal and contemplative experience. The design offers a series of outdoor rooms and spaces that unfold as visitors approach the building, passing through the public gardens en route to the entrance.
When the architects were first studying the plans of the existing Merion Gallery they noted that the walls that separated the smaller end galleries from the rest of the larger galleries on the first and second floors were aligned with one another and could be significantly wider without compromising the Foundation's mandate that any new design respect the arrangement of the rooms within the Gallery. This early observation established a structure that would guide many other decisions made resulting in the creation of the Light Court to provide natural light through the windows of the Collection Gallery.
The stone that wraps the exterior is a fossilized, limestone called Ramon Gray, quarried in the Negev desert. The hand-tooled stone, set in panels, is overlaid on a stainless steel skin with bronze accents, evoking a cloth-like tapestry that alludes both to works in the collection and to African textiles.
The Light Court is the living room of the Barnes Foundation. During the day, the Light Court will be primarily used for the orientation of groups and for casual seating and conversation as one moves into and out of the Collection Gallery. In the evenings, the space can be easily configured to accommodate a variety of events.
The Light Court is capped by the Light Canopy, a voluminous light diffuser that brings natural light into the Court, the Gallery and offices in a controlled manner. As one enters the Light Court, the quantity and dominance of natural light replicates the feeling of being outside before entering the Collection Gallery.
Maintaining the solar orientation of the rooms in the Gallery required that they be entered from the north and face south toward the magnificent allée of London plane trees along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Within the Collection Gallery the architects have simplified and intensified the details, lightening the finish on the wood, utilizing simple floor patterns and re-shaping the ceilings to distribute new artificial lighting and mechanical air from the picture rails - the Gallery has been given a new luminosity. The windows have been re-designed to be wood, as opposed to white-painted metal, with tinted clear glass as opposed to frosted, which regains the connection of the Collection to the gardens.
To supplement the teaching that takes place within the Collection Gallery, the Lower Level of the building houses a hub of educational spaces centered on a generous Lobby with comfortable seating and a library shelf for Collection books. Visitors and students can access a 150-seat auditorium, two seminar rooms, a coffee bar and a library that wraps the Gallery Garden.
The offices are located on the second floor of the Pavilion, distributed across two open spaces that encourage communication among the education and curatorial staff and the administration, development and marketing staff.
In keeping with the Foundation's historic environmental mission, which includes its programs in horticultural education and its stewardship of the Arboretum in Merion, the Philadelphia building of the Barnes Foundation features a sustainable design, and utilizes filtered natural daylight, a green roof, grey water re-use, reclaimed Pennsylvania and New Jersey wood and other local materials. The Foundation is seeking LEED platinum certification for the building, the highest level possible.
Facts about The Barnes Foundation
Total site area:
Barnes Foundation building: 93,000 ft2
Tod Williams Billie Tsien
TWBTA Project Team:
Olin Project Team:
Ballinger Project Team:
Helen JooSoo Choi
Fisher Marantz Stone
Aegis Property Group
L. F. Driscoll
Altieri Sebor and Wieber
Acoustic and Audio Visual:
Exterior Wall Consultant:
Axis Group Limited
Samuel Anderson Architects
Earth Engineering Inc.
Last updated: December 19, 2013
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