Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

i finally got me tiny butt over to the new addition to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum by RPBW (Renzo Piano Building Workshop).  The building has been open since 2012, and i guess i didn't zoom over there due to skepticsm over a lot of Piano's work, of which i've seen more than a few projects that failed to smear my make-up.  i found that many of his projects are beautifully detailed but often spacially boring, especially in the way he choreographs movement through his projects.  This one, however, is an exception, so i had a fairly large salmon flapping on my face the duration of me visit.

The original museum is one of my favorites in Boston.  It was built in the early 20th century by it's namesake, Isabella Stewart Gardner, to house her personal art collection made up of furniture, tapestries, paintings, and furnishings from all over the world.  She tried to re-create a Venetian palace in Boston, using elements taken from Europe, and did so by making a huge glass covered atrium around which were organized rooms (galleries) open to the space.  Much of the lighting comes naturally, from this atrium, and the result is often dim lighting in the galleries that creates an interesting atmosphere, as if walking through an old house rather than a traditional art gallery.

Part of the brilliance of Piano's solution came from an understanding of the fundamental chiaroscuro that defined the Gardner experience, where the entry sequence involved moving from a tiny, dark entrance to discover the lush light of the atrium, about which you would move in and out of as you moved through the dark gallery rooms.  The tapestry room is one example:

Tapestry Room
RPBW moved the entrance to the other side of the museum, which might sound like a disaster of sorts, but in reality proved a brilliant move.  Piano understood that though a museum in the middle of a city, the Gardner was set by the Emerald Necklace, a meandering Frederick Law Olmsted garden originally intended to ring Boston, and so was as much a garden itself as you can tell from the pixie of the atrium above.

Piano moved the entrance such that one enters opposite a small park.  He organized his addition by creating a series of bars through which one moves (colored below), until one arrives at a central stair hall, off which one then moves toward the old house through a glass passage surrounded by green.

Site Plan
Entry sequence.  The use of bars as opposed to spaces is a very modern device.
Doing so, one moves from the all glass entrance hall through what you might call a "garden bar" into the darker stair hall, where a huge glass wall re-orients you to the old house, toward which you then move, through an all glass garden corridor.  You then arrive at the old house, into a dark room, but with the light of the atrium showing itself just beyond.  You have the sense of having discovered the atrium, and the surprise of finding this amazing space is really a beautiful thing.  This is a wonderfully choreographed entrance sequence, light to dark to light to dark to light/atrium.  As explained above, this was the perfect place to use such a device to organize the spaces.

Piano's section diagram
New entrance
Entrance "bar", with garden "bar" to the right.
Inside the entrance bar, looking toward greenhouse beyond.
Another view of entrance bar.
A cliche, i know..but here it makes sense.
The central stair hall, with view toward old house.  This picture shows how one moves from dark to light.
View from the north side.

Egress hung off the facade.

View from garden toward new addition.
Beautifully detailed greenhouse
Detail of greenhouse
Piano layers
Garden passage detailing
"Post" midspan of garden passage.
As you can see, the detailing is brilliant, as is habit for Piano's office.  What's less common, but present here, is a beautiful choreography through spaces both new and old, reinforcing what was already so strong in the old Gardner museum, a depiction of art through light as it might have been during the creation of that art, light both dim and brilliant.

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