Cowtown museum gets new digs courtesy of architect Renzo Piano


The Kimbell’s new roof — a layered glass and wood roofing system (from outside, above, and inside, below) — is a Renzo Piano signature. (Photos courtesy Robert LaPrelle/Kimbell Art Museum)


DAVID TAFFET  | Contributing Writer

For years, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth has played with ways to expand its exhibit space while staying true to architect Louis Kahn’s iconic 1972 building. But any alteration of that structure — considered a 20th century architectural masterpiece and one of Kahn’s towering achievements — was summarily dismissed as heresy.

But Renzo Piano found a way to expand the collection and stay true to purists.

KimbellPiano, the architect who designed the Nasher Sculpture Center’s main building, has been at work on a new pavilion, which opens Nov. 27 with a free exhibit of the museum’s permanent collection. His addition reflects Kahn’s original in height, emphasis on natural light and use of concrete as its primary material. “Close enough for a conversation, not too close and not too far away,” Piano says of his building, situated a mere 65 feet west of the original.

During the pavilion’s planned opening festivities, the Kahn wing will feature iconic works by Picasso and Matisse from the Art Institute of Chicago that are rarely sent out on loan. The first traveling show in the Piano building will be Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection, starting in February. Museum spokesperson Jessica Brandrup says “gorgeous textiles and fabrics” will accompany the 17th century armor.

Keeping with the trend on environmental sustainability, the addition will be heated and cooled by 36 geothermal wells dug 450 feet into the ground. Energy use will be half that of the Kahn building. And like that on the Nasher, the new Kimbell building features a signature Renzo Piano roof: functional as well as a work of art in its own right. This one is glass with a scrim system that’s highly engineered to optimize light levels and contribute back to the energy system with photovoltaic cells.

Expect Cowtown to treasure its new Piano masterpiece and respect the investment the Kimbell has made in the building — that is to say, don’t look for tall buildings with highly reflective glass popping up across the street destroying the artwork inside.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 23, 2013.