For decades, the iconic art collection assembled by Dr. Albert Barnes was displayed at his summer estate turned museum and arboretum in Merion, PA. Now relocated along Philadelphia’s Museum Mile, the priceless collection is accessible to the public as never before. Conceived as a gallery within a garden and a garden within a gallery, the design honors the original Barnes estate designed by Paul Philippe Cret, and provides visitors with a highly personal and contemplative experience. OLIN’s design captures the spirit of the original site and fits into the urban context and implements contemporary sustainable practices. The gallery building opens to two separate outdoor spaces—one a lush garden and terrace adjacent to the museum’s café, replete with plantings characteristic of the historic gardens in Merion. The other is a paved open terrace overlooking the Parkway, suitable for more intimate events, decorated with antique benches, platforms for seating, loose furniture, a fireplace and a collection of flowering trees. Within the gallery a central courtyard has been left open to the sky. Graceful allées of trees surround the site and line the entranceways along with linear pools. Vine-covered walls and hedges discretely mask the visitor parking and bus loading points. An underground cistern captures stormwater for on-site irrigation, conserving resources and contributing to the project’s LEED® Silver certification goals.
OLIN’s design for the new Barnes museum captures the spirit of the original site while offering a Parisian-style public park that fits into the urban context and implements contemporary sustainable practices. A host of unique and beautiful landscape features serve to make the new Barnes both a garden within an institution and an institution within a garden.
Within the new gallery building (by firm Todd Williams Billie Tsien Architects) is a central courtyard that has been left open to the sky. The gallery opens out onto two separate, sheltered outdoor spaces—one a lush garden and terrace adjacent to the museum’s café, the other a paved open terrace overlooking the Parkway, suitable for more intimate events. Surrounding the building, graceful allees of trees and vine-covered walls lead from the entranceways.
Select installations and amenities
Fountains, pools, causeways, and other water features greet the visitor approaching by way of gently ascending ramps from the entrances and car parks. Vehicle activity is effectively screened by allees and hedges, and at the convergence of the entrance paths, Ellsworth Kelly’s sculpture The Barnes Totem marks the convergence of the entrance paths adjacent to the attendant’s booth. Generous wooden benches afford opportunities to take in the lush scenery.
Featured materials and plantings
Nordic Black granite (in ceremonial forecourt); San Sebastian granite (on walkway and ledges); horse chestnut trees; Japanese maples; Magnolias; Leucothoe; Amelanchiers; Franklinia; Viburnum; Climbing Hydrangea; Bigonia; Katsura; Willow oaks; Basswoods and Carolina Silverbell.
As much of the rainwater water that falls on the site that can be captured and is not taken up by the large extent of planting is directed to a cistern for use on the site as irrigation. The water in the basins is re-circulated, and to a certain degree partially shaded by either the building or vegetation limiting the loss to evaporation while providing cooling for people and plants. Water is directed through planted areas and granular materials to aid in filtering and cleaning it. This conservation of resources has contributed substantially to the overall project’s LEED certification goals.
The design’s complexity and intimacy recalls aspects of the collection’s previous suburban location, the historic Merion campus. Materials from the original site were used, showing sensitivity to the elegant French style that informs the building, in keeping with the other institutions along the Parkway. Planting selections were made to reflect some of the flora frequently seen in the Impressionist paintings of which Dr. Barnes was such a significant collector.
2013 American Institute of Architects
Honor Award for Architecture
Landscape architect: OLIN
Project team: Laurie Olin, Yue Li, Eve Kootchick, Kasey Toomey, Andrew Leach
Consultants: Dan Euser Waterarchitecture Inc., fountain | Irrigation Consulting Inc., irrigation systems
Photographer: © OLIN / Will Belcher
Photographer: © OLIN / Yue Li