Monday, September 10, 2007

Back to Philadelphia: Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Will Design the new Barnes Foundation

One of the nice things about Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects winning the commission for the Barnes Foundation (as I reported today) is that it means that they will get a chance to do a second Philadelphia building. They are responsible for the best new building in Philadelphia: Skirkanich Hall labs at Penn, which I reviewed in 2006, and when the design was first presented in 2004. But in this day of jet-setting stararchitects, it's rare for a designer to come back for a return engagement.
The new Barnes won't necessarily start up a dialogue with Skirkanich. But the architects did tell me during our interview yesterday that they intended to "top" what they did at Skirkanich, so it's obviously a point of departure. These days, two major buildings by the same designers, in the same city is practically a body of work. I've always felt you can't understand an architect just by looking at one building. You get more meaning and enjoyment when you are able to see the same ideas applied to different problems, and can pick out the variations on a theme. It might take three or four years, but Philadelphians will eventually have a little compare-and-contrast exercise to ruminate over.
Williams and Tsien don't have a huge list of completed works, but they are represented on both coasts by excellent projects, the American Folk Art Museum in New York and the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California. All their projects are distinguished by an effort to bring the landscape into the building and blur the boundaries between indoors and out. That's exactly right for the Barnes collection , which is so thoroughly integrated with the landscape surrounding Paul Cret's limestone villa in Merion. The experience obviously won't be the same on the Parkway, but it could be wonderful in its own right.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never approved of the Barnes art departing its historic Merion home (and still don't) but the selection of architects and your print & blog columns today have made the possibility seem exciting!

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article Inga. Very Informative. I like their aesthetic, and think their design for the Barnes will prove to be a worthy addition to Philadelphia.

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2:05 AM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Although any decent building would be better than the Youth Study Center, this team has a great track record. I'm sure they will design a wonderful home for the Barnes treasures, and everybody will benefit.

I found the fight to keep the Barnes in Merion a bit elitist, but there is a real issue about the Merion building itself. What is going to happen to it? It has a lot of history and probably should be put to some public use.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm confused.

We don't want to lose a Philadelphia style building on Broad Street for the PCC...

But we love Skirkanich Hall.. which was built on the site of a Philadelphia style lab, Pender Labs.


12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Barnes 'as is, where is' is the living lesson plan of John Dewey and it is an Art installation, itself, created by Albert C. Barnes. I can't believe that any true artist or architect would even want to be connected to this proposed Move which is an insult to the National Cultural Integrity and to our National Pride. The people involved in this move are the laughingstock of the Art World. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

12:18 AM  
Blogger Richard Weiss said...

Sorry Inga, but I agree with other commenters the new design bears an eerie and unwelcome resemblance to the Juvenile Detention Center which it replaces. Where is the visual drama worthy of the collection? Why must so much Philadelphia architecture be confined to pedestrian brick and stone? Don't the architects who design for this city have more contemporary and uplifting materials in their palettes? I am gladdened that this historic collection is finally about to be wrested out of its isolated, elitist snuggery in the Land of Lockjaw, but it should present its face to the Parkway and announce itself with pride, not landscaping. I walk The Parkway every day. This is hardly a joyless corridor, but it will never be as grand as it could be, if even one of its anchor tenants turns its face away.
Am I missing something?

2:35 PM  

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