Barnes Materials: extraordinary textures

By now you’ve heard that architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s design for the Barnes is a masterful modern work, imbued with a quiet, graceful power, and a sense of permanence. And if you can look beyond the world-class art collection, you’ll see the design’s refined expressions of structure, materials, and craftsmanship revealed in the finishes.

Many of the decorative elements of the new Barnes take their cues from fabrics, particularly African textiles: the bronze gates leading to the galleries, the Kente cloth mosaic pattern, the prism tapestry chandelier, and even the planned pattern of vine plantings to camouflage concrete garden walls. These artful elements add interest but do not distract.

PlanPhilly’s JoAnn Greco and I went exploring in the new Barnes yesterday as part of a media preview blitz, and paid special attention to these textures. Above is a sampling of what I saw, and here’s JoAnn’s review of the Barnes.

About the materials you’ll see in the photos above:

  • Negev limestone is the primary stone used throughout the building. It was quarried by Israelis and cut in Bethlehem by Palestinians. Different textures are achieved through sandblasting, honing, and hand chiseling into what Williams and Tsien call a “cuneiform” pattern (reserved for interior spaces).
  • The woods range from white pine to walnuts. The showstopper wood element is the herringbone-patterned ipe flooring in the Light Court and courtyard, reclaimed from the structure of the Coney Island boardwalk.
  • Wall coverings range from neutral-toned burlap and Belgian linen in gallery and classroom spaces to the hand-made soft, white, nubby silk and wool felt acoustical panels.
  • The metals used include stainless steel cladding behind the Negev limestone, peeking through at random intervals, and patinated bronze on doors, the elevators, exterior fins, and the grand gallery gates.
  • Light, while not a material, plays off the textures and materials, illuminating and reflecting their qualities in glass, on the pools of water, and casting interesting shadows. The Light Court’s voluminous light-diffusing design softens the interior lighting, dimming and brightening with the weather.

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