Located in the Fenway Cultural District of Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum occupies a 1901 Venetian-style palace and contains numerous works of art as well as drawings and photographs of European and American architecture. A new wing designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop was recently opened to provide space for new functions and at the same time avoid overuse of the historic building. The new-build programme is all transparency and light, the ample use of steel and glass giving a sleek, uncluttered feel. The extension makes room for classrooms and activity areas, a museum shop, large relaxation area, cafeteria and greenhouse. Its centrepiece is Calderwood Hall, a performance and conference auditorium. The square plan has a central stage surrounded on all sides by three tiers of balconies in Elizabethan-theatre style. Poltrona Frau Contract, a team that had already worked with Renzo Piano, was given the seating brief. Two chair models were chosen: for the balconies, the fixed RP02 theatre armchair designed originally by Renzo Piano for the Padre Pio Auditorium in S. Giovanni Rotondo, Rome; and for the ground floor where spatial flexibility is key, the lightweight, stackable Movie Chair. Poltrona Frau customized both models to the special requirements of Calderwood Hall, working alongside people from the Renzo Piano Building Workshop and with acoustics designer Yasuhisa Toyota. The RP02 gravity-lift seat has an oak frame, fabric upholstered seat, elastic strap springing and noise-damping moving nylon joints. The underseat has a special wooden acoustic panel. The original model was adjusted to requirement with the addition of a C-shaped metal bracket to enable installation on metal bars running around the square hall. The Movie Chair was chosen for its combination of manoeuvrability and informality that gives a comfortable domestic feel to any environment it graces. For the needs of Calderwood Hall, the seat and back were upholstered in woollen fabric while the armrests received an oak veneer to match their RP02 counterparts. Carried out in close cooperation with the architects, this fine-tuning has produced made-to-specification seating that not only slips harmoniously into its setting but is also an integral part of the whole project.
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