Surrounded by elms and red oaks, Renzo Piano’s 101,130-square-foot colonnaded pavilion stands as an expression of simplicity and lightness—glass, concrete and wood—some 65 yards to the west of Louis I. Kahn’s signature cycloid-vaulted museum of 1972.
The Piano Pavilion is made up of two structures connected by two glazed passageways.
The front, or east wing, opens into a glass-enclosed lobby leading to two simply expressed galleries: here, coupled wood beams run north and south, the floors are oak, and the walls are perfect, long expanses of light-gray concrete or curtain glass. The beams support an elegant roof structure of steel and glass, fitted above with louvers that control the flow of sunlight and below with scrims that filter the light before it enters the gallery. As spaces for viewing art, both galleries benefit from the presence of this natural illumination and, through their window walls, from the changing impressions of exterior weather and light. The principal function of the south gallery is to display temporary exhibitions; the north gallery, to show works from the collection.
“With this expansion, for the first time, the Kimbell will be able to showcase the breadth of its small but extraordinary permanent collection while simultaneously presenting a diverse selection of changing exhibitions,” says Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell. “We have filled the Piano Pavilion with our collection to celebrate its opening, but in a few months’ time we will preview the pavilion’s first temporary exhibition, Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Muller Collection.”
Glimpsed from the porch of the Kahn Building, the Piano Pavilion’s east wing conveys an impression of weightlessness: its recessed glass entrance is centered between crisp concrete walls that define the galleries to the north and south; a wafer-thin layer of glass hovers over the heavy steel and wood roof system; and the overhanging coupled wood beams appear to float above the exterior walls.
Approaching the Piano Pavilion, a visitor is aware of its transparency: through the glass lobby the eye moves to the walls of the west wing, sheltered beneath a green roof. Here, in the second of the two structures, unfolds the pavilion’s surprise: an auditorium with bright-red, raked seating plunges below ground to a stage, which itself is set against the backdrop of a deep and broad light well animated by shifting patterns of natural illumination, which shine through the whole structure towards the east.
Deceptively spacious, the west wing not only accommodates the auditorium, but also houses the west gallery—a smaller exhibition space for light-sensitive works—as well as the Museum’s library and new spaces for education.
Lee notes that “in its marshaling of light and materials, in its human scale and tripartite plan and elevation, the Piano Pavilion provides a 21st-century counterpoint to Kahn’s classic modern masterwork.” The New York Times has described the relationship of the two museum buildings as a “civilized conversation across the ages.”
But the relationship is one of contrast as well, notably in Piano’s choice of straight wood beams as a primary structural element for the roof, as opposed to Kahn’s curving, solid concrete vaults. Twenty-nine pairs of 100-foot-long laminated Douglas-fir roof beams span the interior of the wing and extend outward as an overhanging canopy. These beams contribute both dynamic rhythm and visual warmth in juxtaposition to the broad, cool surfaces of concrete; together they define the largely continuous, changeable and airy interiors of the east wing.
As always in his museum designs, Piano continues to experiment with ways to animate and direct natural light, here with a roof system that is notable for its integration of the wood beams as the support for a system of north-opening aluminum louvers and solar cells, mounted above fritted glass and stretched, silk-like scrims. Within and outside the building, he manipulates light and provides unexpected sightlines by dramatically slanting some of the building’s walls. Canted walls also channel light in two sets of stairwells connecting the upper and lower levels: one leading from the main entrance to the underground garage, and the other descending from the upper level to the lower auditorium entrance.
Because most visitors will reach the entrance of the Piano Pavilion from a new underground parking garage, it is likely that their first sight of the new complex will be Kahn’s masterful entrance portico. By situating his structure facing Kahn’s, Piano has reinstated the primacy of the west facade of Kahn’s museum and its dramatic entrance, altering the tendency of visitors up to now to arrive at the lower-level east door, which Kahn considered his building’s secondary entry point.
A New Green Building
Highly energy efficient, with a green roof accessible to the public, the Piano Pavilion will use only half of the amount of energy required for the operation of the Kahn Building.
“Because only a third of the interior is above ground, the museum will see greatly reduced demands for heating and cooling,” said Renzo Piano. “In this way, it is the overall design, as well as the solar technology built into the roof system, that yields important energy savings. This is the way it should be: designing for energy savings is not an ‘add on,’ but, rather, the proper way to build.”
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Client: Kimbell Art Foundation
Gross Floor Area: 9.400 m2
Cost of Construction: 98.080.000 Euros
Architects: Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Design Team: Mark Carroll (partner in charge), Onur Teke (assoc. in charge), Shunji Ishida (partner), Daniel Hammerman, Shunta Ishida, Emily Moore, Alberto Morselli, Marco Orlandi, Daniele Piano, Sara Polotti, Danielle Reimers, Etien Santiago, Federico Spadini, Fausto Capellini, Francesco Terranova (models)
Architect of Records: Kendall/Heaton Associates
Project Manager: Paratus Group
Structural: Guy Nordenson and Associates, Brockette-Davis-Drake
Civil Engineers: Huitt-Zollars
Landscape: Michael Morgan Landscape Architecture and Pond & Company
Lighting: Arup Lighting
Acoustic: Harvey Marshall Berling Associates
Construction Manager: The Beck Group
Laminated Timber Beams (LTB): Structuralam
LTB Steel Elements: TriPyramid
Bridge Bearings: Mageba
Curtainwall, Skylight: Seele
Structural Thermal Break: Schoeck
PV Louvers: GIG
Light Fixtures: iGuzzini, LSi, Bega, WE-EF
Auditorium Seating: Poltrona Frau
Exterior Lighting: Bega
Photography: 1-4/8 © Robert Polidori, 2-3 © RPBW, 9/16 © Robert Laprelle