One of the largest art museums in the United States, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, has recently revealed plans to renovate and expand under the leadership of internationally renowned architect, Frank Gehry. The Pritzker Architecture Prize winner is based out of Los Angeles and has designed multiple famous buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, California, and many others. Gehry is known for his style of Deconstructivism, which is so named due to its ability to go beyond structural definition.
The exhibit presenting Gehry’s blueprints and design plans for the museum was revealed on Monday. Much to everyone’s surprise, the project idea is dramatically different and unique compared to the architect’s usual blueprints. The plan focuses on the interior of the main building by renovating spaces such as the Great Stair Hall, access to previously closed vaulted walkways, extreme improvements on how the guests of the museum will enter and move throughout it, as well as a substantial amount of additional space in an effort to display even more works of art, and the inclusion of a brand new Education Center. The exhibit includes detailed, large-scale models, photographs, videos, and architectural drawings.
The design of the renovations will bring a new, modern feel to one of the city’s greatest classic landmarks. The design will not only reorganize the Philadelphia Art Museum, but will also expand it with an addition of more than 169,000 square feet of area. Unlike Bilbao, Biloxi, or other buildings that Gehry has designed, the art museum expansion is to be built below the surface. The blueprints and plans to transform the interior will remain on view in the exhibit until Sept. 1.
Although most view the renovations to the historic facility as necessary, especially in terms of expansion to better accommodate visitors as well as current and future needs, some disagree with what Gehry has planned for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Critics believe that hiring Gehry to expand on a classic building was to draw in attention, more specifically from fundraisers, instead of building a more conservative expansion with a lesser known architect. What perhaps bothers most critics, however, is Gehry’s plans to alter the most famous steps in Philadelphia, the museum’s east steps, or, “Rocky Steps” as it is unofficially known. Gehry’s design is to cut into the steps that fictional character Rocky Balboa climbed up in the movie Rocky to create a street level entrance. Multiple Philadelphians have been speaking out in anger, citing that cutting out a piece of the “Rocky Steps” is like cutting out a piece of their childhood.
The cost of the renovations fall in between the $350-500 million price range and the building’s leaders expect to have the expansion completed by the museum’s 100th birthday, in the year 2028. When the building celebrated its first birthday, in the midst of the roaring 20s, newspapers all over the country were reporting of scandals that the museum had ended up costing more than $13 million, instead of its original claim of only $3.5 million.
Even though there are many diverging points of views on the new renovation, the building is sure to make a historical impact on the city of brotherly love. Whether the impact is positive or negative has yet to be determined, but so far, Gehry’s exhibit and design ideas have been highly praised. As the museum of art expands, so does the acceptance of modernizing the classic building in Philadelphia.
By Laura “Addi” Simmons