Glass and Glazing Details Featured in Plans for Museum Extension

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston recently revealed the final, detailed plans for an extension to its historic Museum building, which was designed by Gardner herself with assistance from architect Willard Sears and constructed in 1902. The new wing, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano and the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Burt Hill, is expected to open in early 2012.

“The Gardner Museum differs from other museums in that it is a work of art in totality—designed by its founder to be a home of the muses, to embrace all the arts using its immense collection as inspiration,” says Anne Hawley, Norma Jean Calderwood director. “Renzo Piano has responded to the Museum’s need for functional spaces by creating a conversation with Isabella Gardner’s Museum. His answer is the working home for the arts.”

Glass, natural light, and transparency in the new entrance and first floor will afford visitors a sense of a museum-at-work as they enter the building. The design has created, for the first time, opportunities to walk through the Museum’s greenhouses, to interact with Artists-in-Residence living on site, and to observe educational classes and workshops from the lobby. The openness of the space has been conceived to encourage lounging, gathering with others, meetings, and conversation.

“We are not trying to compete with the beauty of the palace, but we have to provide some magic,” says architect Renzo Piano. “The new building may actually be the tool, the instrument, to save the Palace without changing it too much. That this is a fragile creation that cannot survive with its current level of use is one of the conversations we’re having every day. We are talking about an intimate museum that wants to remain intimate.”

The Gardner Museum enjoys attendance numbers today that Gardner could not have imagined. In Isabella Gardner’s day, the Museum welcomed around 2,000 visitors per year to the historic Museum building, known as Fenway Court. Today, annual attendance is around 200,000, with about 10,000 attending the musical performances in the Tapestry Room. To complement and respect the historic Fenway Court, Piano has designed the new wing to stand 50 feet behind the existing Museum building and to rise no higher. A first floor with transparent glass walls will afford direct views of the historic building and the surrounding garden landscapes of the Museum property and Frederick Law Olmsted’s adjacent Emerald Necklace park system.

The new building at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum aims to be LEED certified by the United States Green Building Council. Main components of the sustainable design are a geothermal well system, daylight harvesting, water-efficient landscaping techniques and the use of local and regional materials, which reduces the environmental impact associated with transport.

Strategic planning for the new wing began a decade ago. The regulatory approval process began in fall 2006 and was completed in May 2009. Site preparation and excavation work and the installation of energy-conserving geothermal wells began in summer and fall 2009.