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Frank Gehry Renovation Of Philadelphia Museum Of Art Unveiled

Williams Forum, looking up toward Lenfest Hall. The versatile public space replaces the museum auditorium. (Rendering by Gehry Partners, LLP and KX-L, 2016/Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021)

The four-year renovation and expansion of the Philadelphia Museum of Art undertaken by renowned architect Frank Gehry has been completed, and the museum today showed off the results to the public for the first time. Designed by Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele in 1928, the museum sits atop a hill and, with its massive Ionic columns, resembles a Greek temple. Though Gehry is widely known for his boundary-pushing work, he left the façade of the landmark Beaux Arts structure largely untouched, instead concentrating his efforts instead at the building’s center.

The $233 million renovation, approved by the museum’s board in 2004, created ninety thousand square feet of gallery space. Of particular note, Gehry demolished an auditorium that had been introduced to the building in 1959, replacing it with the Williams Forum, an open public space boasting forty-foot-high ceilings. Connecting the museum’s ground floor to its upper levels via two new sets of staircases, the multistory forum will host a wide range of activities. The new space also provides an ideal setting for large-scale artworks, with installations by Teresita Fernández, El Anatsui, and Do Ho Suh planned.

Additional changes include the rebuilding of the museum’s West Terrace, which features integrated ramps improving accessibility; the restoration of a tiled walkway spanning the breadth of the museum; and the renovation of Lenfest Hall, which connects with the new forum, allowing for better visitor circulation throughout the building. Areas formerly housing offices, a restaurant, and a shop have been converted into the Robert L. McNeil Jr. Galleries, which will focus on early American art of Philadelphia, and the Daniel W. Dietrich II Galleries, which will host contemporary work by the city’s artists.

The next phase of the museum’s restoration is slated to take place following a future round of fundraising, and will include an eighty-thousand-square-foot expansion beneath the museum’s East Terrace.

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