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Kimbell Art Museum Unveils Renzo Piano's Designs for a Major New Building Project
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth,Texas, Renzo Piano, Gallery sketch, 2008 © Renzo Piano BuildingWorkshop.

FORT WORTH, TX.- Today the Kimbell Art Museum unveiled preliminary designs for a major addition to its existing building, a 1972 landmark of modern architecture designed by Louis I. Kahn. Renzo Piano, the architect of the new building, joined Museum officials in one of Kahn’s vaulted galleries for the announcement.

Located to the west of the original Museum, Mr. Piano’s new building subtly mirrors the Kahn building in height and scale and in the span of the façade, as well as in its tripartite plan and use of travertine and concrete as primary materials. From its glazed front, which faces Kahn’s stately stone-clad portico, the roof of the addition gently recedes under a berm at the rear. The expansion roughly doubles the amount of gallery space at the Kimbell.

One striking aspect of Piano’s scheme is the gracefulness with which it restores the threshold experience of the Kahn museum to Kahn’s original vision, so that once again the majority of visitors will enter as intended through the main west entrance and tree-lined court, flanked by pools and vaulted porticos. In recent years most museumgoers have entered through the back door on the east side because of parking requirements.

“An awesome challenge” is how Mr. Piano has described the effort to complement Kahn’s masterpiece. The Kimbell’s board of trustees believed that if any architect were up to the task, it was Mr. Piano—who collaborated with Kahn as a young architect and has already built three great museums in Texas: the Menil Collection and the Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston and the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.

In making the announcement, Kay Fortson, president of the Kimbell Art Foundation, said: “I am delighted with Renzo’s design and by the way in which, physically and symbolically, he has connected the Kimbell’s past and future. We asked him to complement Lou Kahn’s building and he has done so, while bringing his own distinctive character to the architectural ensemble formed by the two buildings.”

Malcolm Warner, acting director of the Kimbell, added: “The new building solves a persistent problem for us in that our existing building cannot accommodate a major exhibition and a full display of the permanent collection at the same time. It will serve mainly as a showcase for exhibitions, and the Kahn building will be home to the Kimbell’s extraordinary collection. It will also include much-expanded facilities for our education program and library, as well as a larger auditorium.”

Visitors to the new Kimbell building will park in an underground parking garage and ascend into a green setting that preserves a historic allée of trees running between the two museum structures. There they will be poised to appreciate Kahn’s west entrance. Once inside the Piano pavilion, they will be in constant view of the Kahn building through the glass façade. A striking cantilevered roof, designed to protect the glass front and interior from the heat and glare of the Texas sun, will also serve to shade part of the green space and encourage movement between the two buildings.

Each of the addition’s three primary bays is to be dedicated to a different area of activity. On the grade level of the two-level building, the south bay will house galleries; the middle bay will house the entry area and further galleries; and the north bay will house the education studios, library, and offices. On the lower level, the south bay will contain mechanical systems; the middle, the auditorium and lobby; and the north, the library stacks. Interior atria will bring in light and offer glimpses of greenery.

Mr. Piano’s preoccupation with natural light makes him especially well suited to add to Kahn’s museum, which is famous for the quality of the light in its galleries. For the addition, Mr. Piano is striving to capture an even more exquisite light quality than he has achieved before, and at the same time to provide energy savings through an innovative roof system, incorporating photo-voltaics, which will exploit recent advances in technology and materials and provide important energy savings. The Museum is aiming for the new building to be “carbon neutral.”

“In a sense, the new building brings the Kimbell full circle,” explains Dr. Warner. “After an intensive preliminary design phase, Renzo has arrived at a location and massing that echoes Kahn’s early vision for the Kimbell, in which the Museum was to be much larger and extend into the area the new building will occupy.”

“With the new building’s basic position and shape established and its location identified, I’m confident that we will develop this newcomer to the Kimbell’s campus into a worthy partner of Lou Kahn’s museum,” says Mr. Piano. “I look forward to the process ahead.”

Following further refinement to the designs over the coming months, the Kimbell plans to break ground in 2010 and complete construction in 2012. When finished, the new building will work in dialogue with the Kahn building to add stature to the already architecturally impressive Cultural District of Fort Worth, joining Tadao Ando’s Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (2002), Philip Johnson’s Amon Carter Museum (1961/2001), and Legorreta + Legorreta’s Fort Worth Museum of Science and History (2009).

Mr. Piano brings impressive experience and credentials to the undertaking, having designed a number of museums in various parts of the world, all known for their deft handling of forms and materials, expressive use of natural light, and sensitivity to their surroundings. His best-known early project is the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, known popularly as the Beaubourg, which he designed with Richard Rogers. In Europe, he is also celebrated for such later projects as the Beyeler Museum in Basel and the Klee Museum in nearby Bern; and in the U.S., for the recently opened California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Other notable commissions include the expansions of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as well as the enlarged Morgan Library & Museum in New York and High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Renzo Piano was born in Genoa (Italy) on September 14, 1937. He graduated in 1964 from the School of Architecture of the Milan Polytechnic. As a student he worked under the design guidance of Franco Albini, while also regularly attending his contractor father’s building sites, where he got valuable practical experience.

Between 1965 and 1970, he completed his training, work experiments, and study travels in Britain and America. As well as collaborating with Louis Kahn on a project, he met Jean Prouvé, whose friendship had a deep influence on his professional life.

In 1971, he founded the “Piano & Rogers” agency with Richard Rogers, his partner on the Centre Pompidou project in Paris. In 1977, he founded the “Atelier Piano & Rice” along with the engineer Peter Rice, a professional of great stature who worked with him on many projects until his death in 1993.

He founded the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in 1981 with offices in Paris and Genoa. Some 100 people work with him including architects, engineers, and building specialists. He is also involved in close collaboration with many associated architects, linked to him by years of experience.

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