Image: Architect Frank Gehry’s long-term master plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art involves going underground: burrowing under the museum’s broad terrace to create additional gallery space that would be illuminated by skylight. (Gehry Partners / Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Frank Gehry’s Philly museum design takes on the “Rocky” steps
By Carolina A. Miranda, latimes.com
Look at Frank Gehry’s plan for the renovation and expansion of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and you’ll see little of the Gehry we’ve all come to know. There are no billowing sheets of titanium, à la Guggenheim Bilbao or Walt Disney Concert Hall; no craggy icebergs like the Fondation Louis Vuitton, which is set to open in Paris this fall.
Instead, the architect has gone inside and underground, carving out space from within and underneath the institution’s guts. He also makes a suggested (potentially sacrilegious) change to the museum’s world-famous “Rocky” steps, where Sylvester Stallone, as Rocky Balboa, once ran triumphantly. All of the changes, however, stay true to the building’s neo-classical limestone look.
Gehry’s master plan is the focus of an exhibition that went on view at the museum earlier this week, ”Making a Classic Modern: Frank Gehry’s Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.” The show for the first time reveals to the public design concepts that Gehry has worked on for almost eight years.
Timothy Rub, director of the Philadelphia museum, says that the institution, known for its collection of American art, is long overdue for a refresher.
"The building has been in continuous use since it was built in 1928," he explains. "It is in dire need of renovations. A lot of work needs to be done to update it. There is deferred maintenance and some of it is the replacing of antiquated building systems."
The museum — which was designed by Horace Trumbauer, C. Clarke Zantzinger and Charles L. Borie Jr. in the1920s — has long been a Philadelphia icon, a temple on a hill on the eastern bank of the Schuykill River.
But that’s on the outside. The inside, as long as I’ve known it, has always been a bit of a hot mess: Visitors start at a dimly lit grand staircase that leads to a warren of uninspiring pathways, some neon-lit, some of which lead to dead ends.
"For a building that reads so monumentally on the outside, when you get into the galleries, they’re really small and chopped up," says Rub. "That sense of scale is not carried through. The intention of this plan is to restore some of that space."
As part of this proposal, Gehry is suggesting all kinds of changes. First off: Eliminate an auditorium under the grand staircase that blocks east-west traffic in the museum. He would turn this area into an open foyer that the literature describes as a “Forum.”
Secondly, Gehry intends to restore the museum’s northern entrance, which leads into a pretty fantastic vaulted archway, but which, for the past half century, has been used as a back-of-house staging area and loading dock.
And, lastly, there is the expansion: the long-term plan calls for tunneling beneath the museum’s eastern terrace to create a whole new suite of galleries and possibly — if it doesn’t cause riots — bust a window through the famed “Rocky” steps.
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