Originally housed in a gallery designed by architect Paul Cret in an arboretum in Merion, Pennsylvania, the Barnes Foundation collection was relocated to a 93,000 SF LEED Platinum building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia. Conceived as “a gallery in a garden and a garden in a gallery,” the new building honors the Merion facility and provides visitors with a personal and contemplative experience. Clad in a tapestry of fossilized limestone and crowned by a luminous light box, the two-story building, with an additional level below grade, is set in an inviting public garden designed with landscape architect Laurie Olin.
The tripartite building plan consists of the gallery housing the collection and an L-shaped support building, which are divided by a generous court. The L-shaped building provides facilities for the Foundation’s core programs in art education, as well as for conservation, temporary exhibitions, and visitor amenities. Dr. Barnes’ legendary collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern paintings, along with African sculpture, Pennsylvania Dutch decorative arts, and other important works is presented in a 12,000 SF gallery that replicates the scale, proportion, and configuration of the original Merion spaces. To emphasize Dr. Barnes’ commitment to education and the visual interplay between art and nature, the galleries now include a classroom on each floor, an internal garden, and vastly improved lighting conditions.
A monumental light box, which runs the length of the building and cantilevers over a terrace, casts daylight into the serene court space below. The court and terrace serve as a place where visitors can gather for tours, a place for repose, or an event space in the evenings. At night, the ethereal light box is transformed into an iconic beacon for the new Barnes Foundation.