Kimbell Art Museum
Texas, United States
The Kimbell Art Museum is a museum in Fort Worth, Texas, renowned for both its collection and its iconic architecture designed by Louis Kahn, and by Renzo Piano.
The museum was founded in 1966; the main building, designed by Estonian-born American architect Louis Kahn (1901 – 1974), was opened in 1972; afterward, an 85,000 square-foot addition, conceived by Italian architect Renzo Piano, was completed in 2013.
Piano’s (left) and Kahn’s (right) buildings; photo Robert LaPrelle. © 2013 Kimbell Art Museum
Architectural model of the Kimbell Art Museum complex with the Kahn building of the left and the Piano Pavilion on the right, photo by Notes from the West
Site plan, courtesy of RPBW
Louis Kahn’s building
Louis Khan was commissioned to design the Kimbell Art Museum’s main building on October 5, 1966.
Kahn aimed to create a museum both “monumental” and adapted to the local context and climate, a building filled with natural light, that could be easily expanded in the future. The solution conceived by the American architect was a sequence of parallel modular galleries, covered by 100-foot long barrel vaults supported by two columns at each end; between a vaulted gallery and the subsequent one, there are smaller flat-roofed exhibition spaces, called side-galleries.
Each barrel vault is actually composed of two curved beams, made in prestressed concrete. In the middle of each vault, a narrow slot coupled with two curved, reflective lids conveys and diffuses the Texas intense daylight into the galleries.
Some galleries are cut by small square courtyards, while two of them are open on one side so to create the museum’s entrance porch.
On the ground floor, the Kahn building accommodates an entrance lobby, exhibition spaces, an auditorium, and a cafe, while the basement contains offices, storage spaces, and a library naturally lit through an array of light wells.
Many elements in the building – such as the use of barrel vaults and of a Travertine cladding, the adoption of a sort of linear version of the Pantheon’s oculus as a natural lighting solution, and the introduction of small rectangular pools and courtyards around and across the building – reveal how much Kahn’s design of the museum was influenced by that Ancient Roman architecture he admired so much during his stay in Italy in 1950 as architect in residence at the American Academy in Rome.
Kahn Building; photos Robert LaPrelle. © 2013 Kimbell Art Museum
Sketch by Louis Kahn, and wall section drawing, courtesy of University of Pennsylvania
Exterior view with one of the pools which surround the Kahn building and an interior view of the cafe area; the second image clearly shows how the 100-foot-long barrel vaults are supported only by columns at their opposite ends; photos by Bill Lile
One of the vaulted galleries, photo Robert LaPrelle. © 2013 Kimbell Art Museum
A “side gallery”, photo Robert LaPrelle. © 2013 Kimbell Art Museum
Interior views of the Kahn Building, the natural lighting system is clearly visible in the middle of the vault, photo Robert LaPrelle. © 2013 Kimbell Art Museum
One of the courtyards in the Kahn Building, photo by Julie Delio
Renzo Piano’s Pavilion
In the early 2000s, it became evident that the museum’s collections and activities were growing so much that the Kahn building would have rapidly become too tight to accommodate them all.
Therefore, Renzo Piano, who incidentally had practiced in Kahn’s Philadelphia office during the ’60s, was commissioned to design an expansion aimed to accommodate a new lobby, temporary exhibition galleries, educational rooms, a library expansion, a 298-seat auditorium, a cafe, a shop, and an underground parking lot.
Piano’s building subtly echoes Kahn’s one, especially in its layout and extensive use of natural light; yet, it envisaged a more transparent and visually “light-weight” building.
Completed in 2013, the new pavilion is composed of two parts, a front wing which accommodates the entrance lobby and two exhibition galleries, and a rear wing housing a third gallery, the auditorium, and an educational facility; the two parts are connected by two glazed passageways.
The new building is mostly made in concrete, timber, metal, and glass – with square concrete columns which support timber beams, and a “smart roof”, similar to others designed by Piano, which provides natural lighting to the exhibition galleries through a system composed of glass panels, stretched fabric, and adjustable aluminum louvers.
Kimbell Art Museum, Piano Pavilion, south facade, photo © Nic Lehoux
Piano Pavilion, ground floor plan, courtesy of RPBW
Exterior views of the pavilion, photos © Nic Lehoux
General and transverse sections, courtesy RPBW
Interior views of the temporary exhibition galleries and the auditorium in the Piano Pavilion, photos © Nic Lehoux
The permanent collection of the Kimbell Art Museum is intentionally not very large – it comprises about 350 artworks, mostly paintings, sculptures, and objects of decorative arts, dating from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the mid-20th century – yet, all its pieces are of the highest quality and artistic relevance.
The collection encompasses five thematic areas: Antiquities, European Art, Asian Art, Precolumbian Art, and African and Oceanic Art.
The European section is particular noteworthy, it includes masterpieces by Duccio da Buoninsegna, Fra Angelico, Titian, Giovanni Bellini, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Parmigianino, Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Canaletto, Bernini, Tiepolo, Canova, El Greco, Poussin, Velázquez, Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Goya, Corot, Monet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Gauguin, Braque, Munch, Picasso, Miró, Mondrian, Matisse, and Henry Moore, among others.
The Kimbell is also the only museum in the United States to hold a painting by Michelangelo, The Torment of Saint Anthony, circa 1487.
Works from the collection are displayed on rotation in the permanent exhibition galleries.
Kimbell Art Museum, permanent exhibition galleries, photos by Bill Lile
Permanent exhibition galleries in the Kahn Building; photos Robert LaPrelle. © 2013 Kimbell Art Museum
South gallery in the Piano Pavilion with works by La Tour, Caravaggio, and Poussin from the Kimbell’s collection; photo © Robert Polidori
South gallery in the Piano Pavilion with works by Michelangelo, Poussin, Velázquez, and Fra Angelico from the Kimbell’s collection; photo © Robert Polidori
The museum organizes temporary exhibitions, guided tours, lectures, concerts, screenings, workshops and educational programs for kids and adults.
The Kimbell Art Museum also includes two auditoriums, two shops, a cafe, and a buffet restaurant; both museum buildings are accessible to people with disabilities.
Cover photo by A den Tex
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