While he has worked on the project for a decade, the museum is only now unveiling the design, which involves carving out a block-size space under the east terrace to create a new wing of galleries.
Most of the improvements will be out of public view, except for two controversial proposals. Gehry wants to insert a large picture window in the so-called Rocky steps across from Eakins Oval to bring light into the new underground galleries; and, because the museum does not meet modern safety requirements, he would build a matched pair of free-standing fire stairs on the museum's east-facing wings.
Drawings, models and photographs of these changes, and the rest of Gehry's design, will be on view from Tuesday through
After Gehry's museum visit, he sat down for a chat about his plan. Here are excerpts, condensed and edited for clarity:
Question: Did you have qualms about tampering with the beloved Rocky steps?
Answer: I promised Annie [the museum's late director, Anne D'Harnoncourt] that I wouldn't do anything drastic on the outside of the building. But board member
Q: You would also, in the area around the window, create a small amphitheater about halfway up the grand staircase, right?
A: We're trying to be discreet, and we're still studying this. There are 10 different ways to do it. It's not a done deal by any means. It's something we resisted doing. But it's powerful, because in one simple move it changes the character of the galleries.
Q: How were you hired by D'Harnoncourt, who died in 2008?
A: We were walking through the
Q: How does it feel to tinker with such an iconic art museum?
A: It's an extraterrestrial experience, transcendent. I feel like I'm collaborating through time with [museum architects]
Q: You're known for your signature swooping curves, yet here you've toned down your style and employ mostly straight lines. Why?
A: I'm not changing very much. There was a question of how much intervention. I don't think you need architectural flourishes. I like that you'll pass by and not know
Q: Your stair towers design is especially understated -- they'll be 22 feet wide and 35 feet tall, roughly the size of a
A: No one has ever accused me of holding back before. My mission was to preserve the appearance of the exterior. Anything I'd do to put my signature on the building would be trivial. But it would be beautiful in glass.
Q: Has any other project every taken you as long as this one, which may not be finished until 2028, when the museum is 100 and you are 99?
A: The Disney Hall [in
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