The reviews are in and now it’s time to book a ticket and check out the new Barnes Foundation museum in Philadelphia designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. I took a road trip over the weekend and was struck by the amount of texture and richness of the materials used throughout. The carved limestone, deep wood tones, and burlap seem to take cues from Barnes’ superb African mask collection. Regardless of where one comes down on the controversial move to the Ben Franklin Parkway, there is no denying the level of detail and workmanship that went into the project.
Much has been made of how distracting tours by architects, particularly charming architects, can be, so it’s important to experience any building as the public does. The roundabout traffic route mapped out by iPhone certainly supported Philly Inquirer critic Inga Saffron’s constant call for less car accommodation and more pedestrian approaches, but as we rented a car for the weekend and were running late for the appointed ticket time, the lot seemed like a mirage on the horizon of Callowhill Street. The tardiness led me to an unsung requirement largely retained in the move: strictly timed ticketing. As most of the reviews were written before the museum opened to the public, the flow of the sold-out crowd could not be gauged. Despite huge press, the strict policy means that the museum is blissfully free of mobs. It allows for relaxed exchanges between viewers that would never occur during a stress-inducing blockbuster show. On a Saturday afternoon in one of the most talked about museums in the country one can still spend ten minutes in a gallery with a marvelous painting from Picasso’s Blue Period–alone!