With its gleaming rows of windows, bright interior, and twin cathedral-like entrances, the landmark Art Deco building on Fairmount and Pennsylvania Avenue was called the gateway to Fairmount Park when it opened in 1927 as the headquarters for the Fidelity Life Insurance Company. Today, it is being dramatically recast in a new role as the gateway to the future for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the first phase of a master plan to dramatically expand and update the Museum. When it opens to the public with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. on September 15, 2007, visitors will experience the renovated and dramatically expanded Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building as a major new public destination.
Set within a lively urban neighborhood, commanding a spectacular view of Fairmount Park and just across the street from the hilltop building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Perelman Building will showcase some of the Museum’s most comprehensive, colorful and cutting edge collections in elegant new galleries and offer a variety of other welcoming spaces and wonderful new amenities. Among them will be a library open to the public and offering a wealth of resources and ever-changing displays of rare books, precious documents and graphic arts; a 70 seat café overlooking a landscaped terrace; a new museum store; a soaring skylit walkway and a succession of other spaces in which to stroll, linger and explore the visual arts.
For the first time ever, the expansion will provide urgently needed space for the display, study, conservation and future growth of the Museum’s large and distinguished collections of Costume and Textiles, and Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and an ample new gallery for Modern and Contemporary Design, as well as housing a high-tech and accessible Library, Archives, and Educational Resource Center. The Museum’s acquisition and renovation of the Perelman Building will also enable expanded future exhibition space and visitor amenities across the street.
“The Museum’s collections began to outgrow available space in our great neo-classical building more than a quarter of a century ago, and the Perelman Building represents the first giant step forward in our plan to expand the opportunities we offer to the public for encounters with works of art,” explains Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “The spectacular exterior, with its crown of gilded ceramic figures of owls and squirrels and other ornamental detail by the great Art Deco sculptor, Lee Lawrie, will be complemented by the interior renovation and terrific addition expertly designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects. As you move inside, it has an airy, contemporary feel. The renewed building is a celebration of space and light, and springing from that will be many new opportunities to delight and inspire our visitors.”
Gail Harrity, Chief Operating Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, adds: “The Perelman Building marks the first expansion of the Museum’s footprint since 1928, the year our building was completed at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It provides the first expansion of gallery space since 1977, when the Kienbusch Galleries for Arms and Armor opened to the public. This is a huge milestone in our Master Plan to expand and modernize the entire Museum over the next 10 to 15 years.”
The Perelman Building occupies a two-acre site bordered by Pennsylvania Avenue, 25th Street, Fairmount Avenue, and 26th Street in Philadelphia. It faces the hilltop building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art building across Kelly Drive and is among the most distinctive architectural structures near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, featuring one of the city’s most elaborate Art Deco facades.
In 2001 Gluckman Mayner was selected as the architect for the Perelman project. In October 2004, following a groundbreaking celebration, the major construction began in earnest and the original 114,000 square-foot building has been expanded by a 59,000 square-foot new addition. “Among the most immediate challenges was balancing our respect for the existing building’s scale and landmark character with the need to create a distinct addition,” notes Richard Gluckman, Principal of Gluckman Mayner Architects. “Certain aspects of scale, texture and detail derive from the historic structure, yet the addition is fully contemporary – the result is a contextual intervention that transforms the existing building, addresses the Museum’s programmatic needs and responds to the adjacent neighborhood.”
New Galleries and More Art on View
As a focus for learning, connoisseurship, and sheer enjoyment of works of art, the Perelman Building will be an important catalyst for the Philadelphia region’s ongoing cultural renaissance. Among the most enticing features will be six new galleries in which to showcase the collections. As visitors pass under the elaborate arch facing Fairmount Avenue, they will enter a beautifully preserved entrance lobby that offers a variety of choices. Straight ahead, visitors may stroll into the new addition with the café, skylit galleria, and to a suite of galleries, including the Joan Spain Gallery of costume and textiles, the Julien Levy Gallery for photographs, and the Collab Gallery for modern and contemporary design. Or turning left from the lobby, they could enter a rotunda adjoining the museum shop and leading into the expansive gallery for changing installations, which extends the entire length of the Pennsylvania Wing. The handsome staircase or an elevator from the lobby to the second floor will take visitors to the new library reading room with its views of the park and city. Walking past the Wachovia Education Resource Center, in which teachers from all over the region will find art information to help them prepare their classes, they will find treasures on view in the study gallery for costume and textiles.
“The new spaces offer so many opportunities to show remarkable objects that many of our visitors have never seen before,” says d’Harnoncourt. “Visitors will see so much more of the collections of Costume and Textiles, Modern and Contemporary Design, Photographs and the special collections of the Library and Archives, and the large multi-purpose gallery will open with a survey of sculpture, while a small niche gallery will display new acquisitions in prints and photographs. The exciting thing is that there will be so many options given the extraordinary depth and richness of our collections.”
The capacious gallery extending alongside Pennsylvania Avenue is especially well-suited to sculpture because natural light is cast so generously by its succession of large, arched windows facing the main Museum building and the park. The space is dedicated to changing special exhibitions, easily accessed from the lobby and convenient to the nearby café, and can be darkened for video installations as desired.
Another highlight of Richard Gluckman’s design is the skylit galleria some 35 feet high, 200 feet long and widening to 20 feet across as it meets the lobby and café. With its terrazzo floor and tilted, corbelled wall, this new space connects the addition with two bridges to the original building along the length of the pre-existing, north-facing exterior brick façade. It provides dramatic space for a variety of works of art, with a succession of four tall alcoves presenting special opportunities for display.
Another major feature of the Perelman Building is its study centers, which will ultimately be open to the public by appointment. The Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Costume and Textiles is located on the second floor, along with new offices of the Costume and Textiles department that benefit from state of the art work and study rooms, a dedicated conservation lab, and expanded climate control storage. The department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs—also equipped with state-of-the-art conservation and storage facilities—is on the first floor, and contains the Abigail Rebecca Cohen Study Room. The expanded study facilities provide greater opportunities to engage the scholarly, enabling professors, students, and researchers from nearby colleges and universities to work more closely with the Museum staff and the collections.
The new library, four times its present size, occupies two levels. The second floor reading room benefits from a succession of south facing windows that offer generous views. The public will explore its rotating displays and have access to one of the finest collections of art books and periodicals in the region. High school teachers will also find extraordinary new resources awaiting them. The Wachovia Education Resource Center will provide a wealth of art information on the Museum’s collections in particular and the visual arts in general to teachers as they plan their curricula, drawing upon its resources for their students in every field.
The Museum’s neoclassical building (facing the Benjamin Franklin Parkway) and the Perelman Building share a strong resonance in the form of two existing arched portals, one at the north entrance along Museum Drive and the other at the Perelman Building entrance at the corner of Pennsylvania and Fairmount avenues. Further, the placement and scale of the contemporary addition at the rear of the Perelman Building are designed to complement the existing structure and the adjacent residential neighborhoods. The goal is to create a building that is clear in its organization, both in terms of public circulation within the galleries, study centers and library, and in the semi-public and private relationships of the four curatorial departments that occupy the space.