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Friday, November 22, 2013

The New Kimbell Building Shows Much Respect to Beauty and What Came Before

View of original Kimbell building from the new pavilion.

I pulled my car into the Kimbell Art Museum's sparkling monochromatic underground parking garage. The museum's Renzo Piano Pavilion opened to members this morning, and after months of research I'm afire. 

Talk about whether this building will complicate or take away from the original Kimbell Art Museum designed by Kahn have swirled internationally for years—whether the green space that once represented silence will be ruined, whether the jewel box masterpiece actually needed to grow, and why one should augment something that is considered a perfect work of architecture. I grew up close to this museum and was distraught when they erected the ugly tarp and dug into the sacred lawn I once sat by myself and sketched the allée elms or read philosophy texts. 

After three years of digging the tarp is gone, and much of the green space intact. I jump into the transparent, glass elevator, float onto the lawn facing the Kahn building, exit outside, turn left and enter the pavilion. It is the Friday before Thanksgiving, drizzly and 34 degrees outside. This seasonal weather becomes a part of the pavilion because of its transparent nature. Architects' (of museums) most powerful tool is their use of natural light. It's organic, ever-changing, and the best way to view artwork. How they translate that light determines the success of their building. It also determines the atmosphere of the building. Today the sun is dimmed by freezing drizzle. The artificial light is soft and warms the galleries. The balance is delicate and light.  

And the Kahn building looks stunning from here. Before now, I never stood on the lawn 65 yards across the Kimbell and looked at it. I never knew that was the intended original entrance as so many Fort Worth natives do not. The Renzo Pavilion offers a new vista onto the lawn and the Kahn building. 

The ceilings of the lobby are high bringing my eyes up toward the glass roof. The windows throughout frame various aspects of the cultural district, but the front lobby's glass wall perfectly framed the Kahn building—the star of the cultural show in Fort Worth. The concrete walls looked like melted white chocolate, so subtly smooth behind the powerful paintings that grip their audience. Here a rapport between a patron and the artwork can easily form. Flirting comes easy. 

Walking deeper into the south gallery, I notice a floor to ceiling window framed the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum. It is as if the architect says, I didn’t forget that you’ve been standing there for
nearly 80 years. Walking into the underground east gallery, I see yet another framed view of the same memorial, but this time with one of the allée elms planted in 1936 to line a street that once jutted out of the coliseum's main entrance. The street was removed when Kahn’s building broke ground in the 60s, but the allée elms remained.

I couldn’t help but smile thinking of Renzo Piano’s thoughtfulness and sincerity.

It’s these polite gestures that create the “conversation” between buildings. They speak through nods, winks, and deference. Some conversations are arrogant, some are cowardly, but this one is polite.

Renzo also speaks to the architect of Fort Worth’s Modern Art Museum, Tadao Ando, through his concrete walls. Renzo visited one of Ando’s latest projects in Italy and admired the silky texture, so he brought it here using the same technique (more about that later).

Click here to read my article in Fort Worth, Texas magazine about how he speaks directly to the Kahn building.

Framing history

An acoustic guitar plays in the pavilion's new auditorium with Renzo's signature red chairs made from Australian wool.