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Renzo Piano addition to Louis Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum

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Renzo Piano design addition to Louis Kahn's Fort Worth Kimbell Art Museum

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Here’s some information on that special place in the heart of the Fort Worth Cultural District that we all love to visit: The Renzo Piano design addition to Louis Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum.

Channeling Kahn

Witold Rybczynski, Hon. FAIA, asks the reader of his article in the January 2014 issue of ARCHITECT magazine, a publication of the American Institute of Architects,

How do you design a new building next to a masterpiece?

He answers that question in his critique, by stating that the Renzo Piano addition to Louis Kahn's celebrated Kimbell art museum is “a study in careful deference.” He obviously was impressed as are most who visit the striking Fort Worth modern design art museum addition structure.


Rybczynski also relates a bit of the background history leading up to and including the selection of the Renzo Piano design team to design the much needed and anticipated Kimbell Art Museum addition in the Fort Worth Cultural District.

In 2006, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, approached Renzo Piano to design an addition to Louis Kahn’s masterpiece. Piano, Hon. FAIA, was a logical choice. He had to his credit two Texas museums—the Menil Collection and the Nasher Sculpture Center—that were themselves acknowledged masterpieces. And he had plenty of experience working on expansion projects for respected cultural institutions: the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. By all accounts, though, Piano was at first reluctant.

A risky commission

Witold goes on to say it was a dicey commission. The first architect who accepted the design commission, Romaldo Giurgola, in 1989, was publicly attacked for his design proposal to replicate Kahn’s design at each end. Asked in a letter to The New York Times; “Why ruin the masterwork of Kahn’s life with such an ill-considered extension?” Cosigners included the famous architects Philip Johnson, Richard Meier, FAIA, Frank Gehry, FAIA, and James Stirling, Hon. FAIA. With that kind of negative publicity, the expansion addition was cancelled, and Giurgola withdrew to Australia.

Kimbell trustees almost cancel design addition

After the letter, the penchant of the Kimbell trustees, smarted by this incident, was to build nothing at all. However in ensuing years, it came to be apparent that the museum functions, collections and popularity had grown too large for its original home: The Kimbell needed gallery space for temporary exhibits, classrooms for its educational programs, a more voluminous library, a larger auditorium, and definitely more parking., The museum eventually acquired land for expansion across the street from its rear entrance, a site that faced the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, a location that had the advantage of completely eliminating the addition from the immediate surrounding area of the Kahn building.

Piano accepts commission and decision to locate addition on front lawn

Piano eventually accepted the commission, and spent several months working on a preliminary design. As the project developed, however, it soon became clear that the site was simply too disconnected from the museum, both functionally and symbolically. When someone suggested that the lawn facing the front of Kahn’s building might be a better location, Piano immediately endorsed the option.

A low key design solution

Witold partially concludes his critique by adding,

The long, low façade of Piano’s addition exactly mirrors Kahn’s tripartite design—two solid walls flanking a glazed entrance—but the overall effect is much more low key than its celebrated neighbor. There are no curved vaults, no reflecting pools or sparkling waterfalls, no grove of delicate yaupon holly trees as in Kahn’s entry court. Piano yields pride of place to the master.

For Witold’s complete comments see Channeling Kahn: Renzo Piano's Addition to the Kimbell Art Museum.

Click here for more Architect magazine articles on Renzo Piano Fort Worth Kimbell Art Museum.


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