Gehry to remodel art museum hall

Philadelphia can now boast it has its own Frank Gehry, but it’s underground.

The Art Museum has broken ground on the latest phase of a long-range expansion plan. One of the world’s foremost museum architects, Frank Gehry, will put his modern stamp on the historic building.

Gehry roared to international fame in 1998 with the Bilbao museum in Spain, a playful riot of free-form curves that defined contemporary architecture.

The Philadelphia Art Museum has harbored a secret stone hallway with a grand vaulted ceiling running underneath the terrace atop the Museum steps.  It has been shut off and unused since 1975. Gehry has redesigned the space as an area to store and prepare art for exhibition. He says the “ferocity” of the original architecture allows the building to be changed without compromise.

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“A community seems to need art museums. When they are built people come,” he said. “There’s a basic human need. I’ve been talking to neuroscientists about that recently, trying to figure out how basic is the need. It’s pretty powerful.”

The Museum’s long-term goal is to dramatically expand its gallery space. But because the building cannot be built upward or sideward, it will go downward. After the new art-handling facility is finished in 2012, development of new underground galleries will begin.

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