The Benjamin Franklin Museum at Independence National Historical Park (INHP) in Philadelphia has bid adieu to the 1970s. Closed by the National Park Service (NPS) for a $23 million, two-year renovation, the historic site has re-opened as an 8,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility to learn about the “relevant revolutionary.” Quinn Evans Architects (QEA) was tasked with renovating the original 1976 underground museum designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown (VSBA). The museum now involves interactive displays, personal artifacts, and a glass pavilion, also known as the ghost house, operating as the main entrance from Franklin Court.
Benjamin Franklin Museum, Lobby. (Courtesy Quinn Evans Architects)
While VSBA’s “ghost house” pavilion remains largely untouched, one major change consists of the new entry building, which replaces heavy brick walls with a ground floor facade of “fritted glass,” a pattern created from photographs of the original pavilion’s brick wall. Slate floors replace burnt orange-tiled passageways. The firm has also designed a large “View Window” to engage visitors with the ghost house, a steel structure outlining Franklin’s vanished residence and print shop.
While recognizing that the museum could benefit from an update and the expanded entry pavilion might be needed to accommodate roughly 250,000 annual visitors, Scott Brown was not thrilled that VSBA was not asked to carry out the project. When the project began, AN reported that Doris Fanelli, chief of INHP’s Division of Cultural Resources Management, contended that the NPS selected QEA from a pre-approved list because the venture was progressing quickly. Although confronted with reluctance from architectural scholars to alter the postmodern icon, NPS did not approach VSBA, who was not on the list.
In a letter, VSBA wrote that more offensive is how the alterations rework the museum entry experience, which resembled former urban planner Edmund Bacon’s greenway plan for Society Hill.