The Philadelphia Museum of Art is sited on the axis of Benjamin Franklin Parkway that connects the city center with Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the world. Many prominent institutions and notable buildings line the great diagonal boulevard to create a remarkable cultural corridor. Located adjacent to the Museum is the Perelman Building, formerly the headquarters of the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company, designed in 1927 by Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary, and considered today as the most significant example of Art Deco style architecture in the city.
In 2007, the Museum expanded its presence on the Parkway by transforming the Perelman Building into satellite galleries and administrative offices. Ten years later, this project further activates the building by transforming its center section to become the main Auditorium for the Museum, thus creating a prominent new room in the City for symposiums, lectures, small concerts, and special events.
The new Auditorium is both resonant and complementary with the original building. In keeping with the rich details of metal and millwork found in lobbies and public spaces throughout, it relies upon artisan craft of the new elements. In contrast to the richly patterned floors and walls, it juxtaposes fresh color to be expressive of the new and undecorated volumes and surfaces. These design intentions support functional and technical objectives for purposeful use of the room.
The design concept is to create a singular space as an insertion of contemporary elements within the richly detailed historic building. Like objects in a gallery, these elements are assembled to create spatial relationships between each other and the defining walls of the space. As architecture, each element has a different functional purpose that is represented in color and volume. There is a terraced podium of seats that gathers the audience, a tech cube that composes the space, a proscenium frame that focuses the room, a textured scrim that adjusts the ceiling plane, and new acoustic wall panels that redefine the enclosure.
The new Auditorium restores the commanding views of the Parkway by opening up the (formerly blocked) flanking rows of historic windows. With transparency restored between the urban park setting and the gathering within, the space is repurposed to become a room that reconnects to the City.
Attending a cultural event is exciting, as finding a seat becomes an itinerary of anticipation described by spaces, circulation, planes, volumes, lighting, and colors. The new Auditorium achieves a rich sequence. Guests enter monumental blue doors from the historic lobby into a cylindrical vestibule that re-orients direction, through charcoal doors to a foyer defined by the blue tech cube. The dark stained wood podium of red seats and charcoal details is beyond—all unified by a glossy maple floor.
Based in Philadelphia, MGA Partners is a nationally recognized firm distinguished for architecture that is considered, crafted, and resonant with its place. We are a medium-sized design-oriented firm with experienced and mature leadership. Over the past twenty-five years, the focus of our practice has been for respected public and private institutions. Our work is collaborative, seeking fresh ideas drawn from the people and circumstances of each project—establishing our long tradition of making lasting contributions to urban and campus spaces, improving the quality of community through our planning and architecture.