By Jared Bowen
Feb. 25, 2011
BOSTON — The Museum of Fine Arts isn’t the only Boston museum with a major expansion. Just across the park from the MFA, a vast, $114 million extension is rising behind the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, designed by famed architect Renzo Piano.
Anne Hawley, the director of the Gardner Museum, said the expansion was tailored to fit with the existing museum. “One of the things that Renzo Piano -- who so understands this building -- wanted to do was to make sure that the buildings, that the new building respected this building. He said it had to be like a nephew to a great grand-aunt.”
And the great grand aunt, by the way, is getting a facelift. The new building allows for Mrs. Gardner’s palace to be restored back to the way she left it—including the grand tapestry room, which has doubled as a formal concert hall for the past 40 years.
“For over 100 years, this building has been loved to death but there’s just too much going on in it,” Hawley said. Everything from fixtures to tiles to the 16th-century Flemish tapestries will be restored.
But the bulk of the work is happening behind the museum, with the new 70,000 square foot building. It’s larger than Mrs. Gardner’s Palace.
Originally, Hawley and her colleagues told Piano they wanted the extension to “float poetically” behind the museum. “And to have a great feeling for people when they walked into it. And to have that intimacy of scale that the Palace has,” Hawley said.
So visitors will now enter the museum on a floor entirely enclosed by glass, giving the sense that building does float. It also gives patrons a clear view of the palace and surrounding gardens.
Hawley says it’s a definitive contrast from the original structure. “That is such a closed building. No one really knows when they look at it what’s going on inside. So the idea was that this would be very transparent and it would be open to the park and public,” Hawley said.
In addition to a new café, gift shop and offices, there will be a 2,000 square-ft. special exhibitions gallery here as well. It’s three times the space of the old one.
“It’ll be for contemporary artists but it will also be for historic projects and we’ll alternate between them. And it has, it goes 36 feet up,” Hawley said.
And what’s quickly shaping up to be the most iconic space in the museum is a soaring new performance hall. Previously housed in the Tapestry Room, here it will be a very singular cube with only two rows on each side of the ground level and just single rows on the three balcony levels.
“It is going to be intimate and lively and I think people are just going to love it,” Hawley said. She says there’s no other space like it.
We’ll be able to hear and see for ourselves when the new building opens in just 11 months.
NEW WING, NEW HEIGHTS FOR THE MFA