The Kimbell Art Museum’s original building was designed by Louis Kahn in 1972. The new building by Renzo Piano Building Workshop establishes a close, respectful and frank dialogue with this powerful yet delicate older building. The new Renzo Piano Pavilion (named by the building’s owner) accommodates the museum’s growing exhibition and education programmes, allowing the original Kahn building to revert to the display of the museum’s permanent collection.
The programmes and collection of the Kimbell Art Museum have grown dramatically in recent years, far beyond anything envisioned by the museum in the 1970s. Addressing the severe lack of space for the museum’s exhibition and education programmes, the new Renzo Piano Pavilion provides gallery space for temporary exhibitions, classrooms and studios for the museum’s education department, a large 298-seat auditorium, an expanded library and underground parking. The expansion roughly doubles the Museum’s gallery space. Furthermore, the siting of the new building, and the access into it from the car park, will correct the tendency of most visitors to enter the museum’s original building by what Kahn considered the back entrance, directing them naturally to the front entrance in the west facade.
Subtly echoing Kahn’s building in height, scale and general layout, the RPBW building has a more open, transparent character. Light, discreet (half the footprint hidden underground), yet with its own character, setting up a dialogue between old and new.
The new building consists of two connected structures. The front section – the ‘Flying pavilion’ facing the west façade of Kahn’s building across landscaped grounds – has a three-part facade, referencing the activities inside. At its centre a lightweight, transparent, glazed section serves as the new museum entrance. On either side, behind pale concrete walls are two gallery spaces for temporary exhibitions. A sequence of square concrete columns wraps around the sides of the building, supporting solid wooden beams and the overhanging eaves of the glass roof, providing shade for the glazed facades facing north and south. In the galleries, a sophisticated roof system layers stretched fabric, the wooden beams, glass, aluminium louvres (and photovoltaic cells), to create a controlled day-lit environment. This can be supplemented by lighting hidden behind the scrim fabric.
A glazed passageway leads into the building’s second structure. Hidden under a turf, insulating roof are a third gallery for light-sensitive works, an auditorium and museum education facilities.
Glass, concrete, and wood are the predominant materials used in the new building, echoing those used in the original. Views through the new building to the landscape and Kahn building beyond emphasise the key motifs of transparency and openness.