39th Annual Meeting – Tour, May 31, New Barnes Foundation Building: Hard-Hat Tour

The hard-hat tour of the new building of The Barnes Foundation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia was most definitely a treat. For those who are not familiar with The Barnes Foundation, this is an institution that is known for its fabulous collection of 18th and 19th century French paintings, unique gallery space designs, and devotion to education. The collection is currently housed in Merion, Pennsylvania. The new building is scheduled to open in May 2012.

The tour began in front of the building, where everyone was given a hard-hat and welcomed to the construction site. The tour was conducted by William W. McDowell, Senior Building Project Executive. When completed, the building, dressed in stone slabs from the Negev Desert in Israel, will be surrounded by a garden with tall trees and a pool. Attention was given to creating a serene environment that will allow visitors to enjoy the collection. Mr. McDowell stressed that this project is about the collection – particularly its preservation.

The tour proceeded into the building, where we were led through some of the gallery spaces, the lower level spaces, and the behind-the-scenes collections spaces, ending in the paintings conservation lab (the objects conservation lab will remain in Merion).

Having visited the Merion building, I found the empty gallery spaces interesting – the gallery space designs and dimensions are identical to those in the original building in Merion. This will allow the artwork and furniture to be placed in exactly the same locations within the galleries. Only one painting will be moved to a different location in order to be more accessible to visitors. Architectural features in the galleries, however, will not be duplicates of those at Merion, but simplified imitations. The basement level will have spaces for programming activities, including a 150-seat auditorium. The gift shop will also be located in the lower level.

The final stop of the tour was the conservation lab. Designed by Samuel Anderson Architects, this space aroused admiration from all tour attendees. Barbara Buckley, Head Conservator at The Barnes Foundation, was present on the tour and spoke about the future lab to us. She told us of the many visits that were made to conservation labs in various institutions during the designing process. The completed lab will have the greatest number of windows in the entire building. This will not only let plenty of natural light into the lab, but will also provide a great view. There will be space for an x-ray machine, analytical instrumentation, and art storage. Located in proximity to the curatorial and educational spaces, this arrangement will allow the departments to work closely together. A study room in this vicinity will promote the examination and study of the artwork for educational purposes.

Many thanks to William McDowell and Barbara Buckley for a great tour!