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Junya Ishigama on the cover of the October 2019 issue of Azure Magazine. The Innovators Issue.
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October 2019

#275
October 2019

The Innovators Issue: Junya Ishigama's genre-busting architecture, Sidewalk Labs and the future of the city, and more!

Noble Barnes 01
The new and improved Barnes Foundation, with works by Matisse above generous windows

On Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, the new Barnes Foundation campus – two stone edifices connected by a cantilevered light box – strikes a handsome pose. The exterior, encased in grey and gold limestone from the Negev desert, makes a nod to the surrounding historical struc-tures; and the brushed finish evokes African textiles, a homage to the African works and decorative arts within.

This building, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Archi­tects of New York, will not draw stares. Yet Albert C. Barnes, the gallery’s eccentric founder, might be thunderstruck to see it today. Before his death in 1951, the millionaire physician stipulated that “all paintings shall remain in exactly the places they are.” By “all paintings,” he meant his vast collection of Renoirs, Cézannes and Matisses. In 2002, the foundation’s board announced plans to move the financially strapped collection from its inaccessible suburban mansion to a larger, more central location. A court battle, and a cultural uproar, ensued.

Noble Barnes 02
Centrally located, the structure features a dramatically cantilevering light box

Opened in May, the new venue recreates the exhibition layout Barnes meticulously planned and protected by law. To meet this oner­ous challenge, the architects created a full-scale mock-up of one of the galleries. “It gave us the opportunity to capture the spirit of the space,” Billie Tsien says, “while changing many of the details in dramatic ways.” They arranged the works just as in the old building, then amplified the finishes and installed abundant glazing to usher in natural light.

The finished project has received mixed reviews; some critics mourn the original; others find the sense of walking through a replica off-putting. None­the­less, the building improves vastly on its ­predecessor, with expansive spaces, including a massive audi­torium, spread out over 8,640 square metres. “Even if you visit several times, you feel exhausted, mentally and visually,” says Tod Williams. “So we thought hard about making quiet breaks, without destroying the sequence.” A public park and an atrium garden, designed in collaboration with landscape architect Laurie Olin, along with multiple water features all provide beautiful respites.

While the collection’s original home felt cramped and overwhelming, the new space lets art lovers appreciate the works in a comfortable, open setting. “Barnes’s audience is a lot closer to who he imagined would come today,” says Williams. “That would please him immensely.”

AZURE is an independent magazine working to bring you the best in design, architecture and interiors. We rely on advertising revenue to support the creative content on our site. Please consider whitelisting our site in your settings, or pausing your adblocker while stopping by.