In early October, the Barnes Foundation unveiled designs for its new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. The Tod Williams Billie Tsien design attempts to balance the institution’s intimate visitor experience and distinctive gallery hanging while presenting a more open, public face. Opponents, including most prominently Robert Venturi, continue to argue that the foundation should stay in its Paul Philippe Cret–designed home in suburban Merion.
Williams and Tsien describe the new design as a gallery in a garden, and the firm is working closely with OLIN on the landscape design. They have replicated the proportions and arrangement of the original galleries, and are adding a sequence of new spaces including a cafe, bookstore, auditorium, and new contemplative spaces. “We want it to feel like a more personalized experience,” Tsien said. “It shouldn’t feel like the Metropolitan. It should be more like coming into someone’s home.”
The Foundation will continue to admit a restricted number of viewers into the gallery, though it is increasing that number as well as extending viewing hours. “The design encapsulates our goals perfectly,” said Derek Gillman, director of the Barnes. “The architects were given a not uncomplicated brief.”
The institution is known for its remarkable collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Modern works, which founder Albert Barnes hung in eccentric salon-style arrangements that include African masks, wrought iron hinges, and other artifacts. Barnes built the institution as a teaching facility, hoping to draw average people into art appreciation.
The Cret building, which boasts bas-reliefs by Jacques Lipchitz, ceiling paintings by Henri Matisse, and tile work with African designs by the Enfield Pottery Works, sits on the grounds of a landscaped arboretum that is used for horticulture classes. According to Gillman, the Cret building will be retained as a study center for the Barnes archives, which includes correspondence from many of the artists in the collection; the horticulture classes will also remain on site.