"Making a Classic Modern: Frank Gehry's Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art," an exhibition detailing the museum's future with models, site plans, digital images, and floor plans, will be on view from July 1 to Sept. 1 in the museum's Dorrance Galleries.
Developed by the incorrigibly flamboyant Gehry, the Los Angeles architect known for the titanium swirls of L.A.'s Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the master plan for the Philadelphia museum's transformation will achieve its goal via spatial legerdemain and natural light flooding previously dark or enclosed (or even nonexistent) spaces.
"For me, one of the keys to this project is basically the understanding and respect for the character of this building," said Timothy Rub, art museum director. "For those who think of Frank Gehry as the architect of the Disney Concert Hall and Bilbao, I suspect they will want to think again."
Rub said he could not put a price tag on all the remaining work at this point, although the initial renovations and demolition will run in the range of $150 million to $160 million.
The galleries under the terrace will constitute a vast expansion, and provide Gehry with an opportunity for some dramatic, albeit hidden, bravado. This space - with a saddleback ceiling rising as high as 28 feet - is seen as critical to providing a home for the museum's growing collection of modern and contemporary art, plus holdings in American and Asian art.
An additional 23,000 square feet of light-filled gallery space will be added by simply moving mostly back-office operations from the vast wings that extend out on either side of Lenfest Hall, the museum's westside welcome center.
The total of about 78,000 square feet of new gallery space will constitute roughly a 60 percent increase over what is currently available. The museum has more than 227,000 artworks in its collection.
The project, Rub said, which is the culmination of a master plan first sketched out by Gehry and his firm in 2006, will be divided into at least two phases, each with multiple parts.
The first, dubbed the "core project" by museum officials, encompasses comprehensive interior building renovations (the first in the museum's 86-year history, including huge upgrades to systems), demolition of the museum auditorium, and an opening up of the museum interior - what Gehry once referred to as unclogging the building's arteries.
The auditorium demolition will be accompanied by renovation of the 640-foot-long vaulted corridor that runs the length of the central building, from the Kelly Drive side to the south facade facing the Schuylkill. The corridor, with greatly expanded skylights, eventually will become the primary entrance to the new below-terrace modern, contemporary, American, and Asian galleries.
Removal of the current auditorium - added after the museum first opened in 1928 - will allow creation of what officials are calling the Forum, a huge multistory column of open space leading down from the ground floor to the vaulted corridor at the Kelly Drive level, a new museum store, and eventually to a new auditorium constructed under the museum's northwest parking terrace area.
"The reason you want to do this," Rub said, "is you want to open up and clarify the circulation on [the ground floor]. And number two, you want a way to go down to the Kelly Drive level."
If fund-raising proceeds well, this phase of interior construction will also include construction of the new gallery and public spaces in each arm of the museum's ground floor - the floor reached by entering from the west, or park side of the building.
Once those galleries are completed, visitors will be able to view them while strolling along light-filled corridors, with city vistas visible through the sequence of windows.
"You'll know where you are," Rub said.
Also in the future - as funds become available, Rub said - will be construction of the museum's first education center, in 10,000 square feet of the north wing that extends toward the Parkway. The center "represents a very significant commitment to education and addresses a real deficit, I think, at this museum," Rub said.
Down the road will be construction of external fire stairs at the end of both the north and south wings that extend toward the Parkway. The stairs will be enclosed by plain rectangular towers clad in the same sandstone as the original building.
A cafe, relocated by construction of new gallery space, will go into the museum's south wing and will allow for al fresco dining on the east terrace. (There is also an option for officials to open up the very top of the museum, replace brick with glass in the pediments, and utilize the "attic" for public space. No decision has been made on that.)
The second phase of the project will be creation of the below-terrace galleries, with light flowing from corner skylights, an oculus built into the east terrace's redesigned fountain, new outside skylights running the length of the vaulted corridor, and light wells defining new terrace sunken gardens.
It is also possible that the very eastern end of the gallery will terminate in a window looking down the Parkway toward City Hall. This would necessitate demolition of part of the iconic steps, a possibility Rub said would probably lead to some debate. There has been no decision on this option.
Museum officials emphasized that they are not announcing commencement of construction or a capital campaign at this time.
The project's $150 million-$160 million first phase, Rub said, would take possibly five years to complete. The creation of the new galleries and education center in the building's existing wings would add to the cost and time frame.
Rub did not place a price tag on the underground gallery project, the other gallery projects, the new underground auditorium, or the new west side landscaping and redesign.
The museum's board of trustees approved the master plan unanimously in December, he said.
Constance H. Williams, board chair, said the trustees were "thrilled."
"It aligns totally with our strategic plan of opening up the museum," she said. "It deals with aging infrastructure, and the conclusion of the board is we need to open it all up."
Critically important, she said, is the "modular" nature of the plan. All the different parts fit together, but do not need to launch simultaneously. Rather, she said, "We are able to do it as we raise the money. . . . We are able to do it in sections, which makes [the total cost] palatable."
Mounting the master plan exhibition in July, she said, is indicative of "the confidence we have" in completing the total project."
BY THE NUMBERS
Square feet of new gallery space.
Approximate cost of the initial renovations and demolition, which could take five years.
Number of artworks in the museum's collection.