What two architecture critics have to say about the design of the new Barnes Foundation

Oct. 7

How two architecture critics view the concept for the new Barnes Foundation, approved by the Arts Commission Wednesday.

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From The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Inga Saffron:

“What’s astonishing is just how far the design by New York’s Tod Williams and Billie Tsien goes toward fulfilling that mission impossible. Even critics who feel the Barnes is wrenching the collection from its historic womb will have to work to find reasons to hate this building. The architecture is that good.

“The building’s organization has a rigorous clarity, but the rich, artisanal texturing of the facade should raise the Barnes to a quality rarely seen in Philadelphia. The limestone panels will be laid over a stainless steel undershirt, so the surface sparkles. Vertical fins will add dimension and shadow. The reference to kente cloth, incidentally, evokes the influence of African art on modernist painters, and Barnes’ own love of African sculpture.”  Read more

From The New York Times’ Nicolai Ouroussoff:

“The new Barnes will include many of the features that have become virtually mandatory in the museum world today — conservation and education departments, temporary exhibition space, auditorium, bookstore, cafe — making it four times the size of the old Barnes. The architects have tried to compensate for this by laying out these spaces in an elaborate architectural procession that is clearly intended to replicate the serenity, if not the eccentric charm, of the old museum.

“But the result is a convoluted design. Almost every detail seems to ache from the strain of trying to preserve the spirit of the original building in a very different context. The failure to do so, despite such an earnest effort, is the strongest argument yet for why the Barnes should not be moved in the first place. Read more

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