News and Features

Looking Forward to 2013: The Kimbell Addition

An artist’s rendering of the Piano Pavilion. Photo: Kimbell Art Museum

Forty years ago, the Kimbell Art Museum opened its Louis Kahn-designed building that’s been hailed as an architectural masterpiece. But in that time, the Kimbell’s outgrown it. And so, an addition is in the works. As part of our continuing series on the Hot Tickets in 2013, we’ll look at how a pair of famed designers will communicate across space and time.

KERA Radio story:

With all the construction going on just beyond the Kimbell’s front door, you’ve got to raise your voice to be heard. But when all the sawing and hammering are over and the building opens late next year, a conversation between two titans of architecture will begin.

To the east is Louis Kahn’s original vaulted-ceiling building. Renzo Piano’s colonnaded addition is its fraternal twin – not identical but sharing the same DNA. It’ll sit 75 yards away, a positioning Piano has described as, “the right distance for a conversation, not too close and not too far away.”

When you talk about one, the other invariably winds up in the same sentence.

“In many ways, the Piano building almost serves to showcase the Kahn building,” Kimbell director Eric Lee said during a recent interview at the museum.  “When you’re in the Piano building, the Kahn building is extremely present. You can stand in the lobby today, and you’re so aware of the Kahn building, which is right there in front of you.”

Like any good conversationalist, Piano does more listening through his building than talking. It’ll be equipped with a glass roof covering concrete walls. Those features echo the Kahn building, known for its exceptional natural light and concrete surfaces.

A new underground parking garage, of all things, will also redirect attention to the Kahn building. Currently, visitors park their cars behind the building and enter it from the back. But when they exit the new garage or look out from the Piano building, they’ll come face-to-face with the facade Kahn always intended to be the front.

“It opens a whole new chapter in the Kimbell’s history. We’re becoming a much larger museum,” Lee says.  But he underscores that the museum’s mission will still focus on quality. “I do want to emphasize that, though we’re becoming a much larger museum, we want to maintain that intimate scale that the existing Kimbell has.”

The Piano Pavilion, as it’s being called, will be home to a 294-seat theater, classrooms and a library. Special exhibitions will also be featured in its 16,000 sq. feet of gallery space. That frees up the Kahn to display most of the museum’s 350-piece permanent collection