Building on History: The Philadelphia Museum of Art
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When you work on a facility for over a decade, you get to know the place and its owners. And that’s exactly the relationship that has formed between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the team at LF Driscoll, who have been working together to preserve, enhance and improve the museum experience through projects large and small—all while making sure construction is as inconspicuous as possible to staff and visitors alike.
The partnership dates back to 2004 when LF Driscoll was hired to renovate and expand the museum’s newly acquired Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, marking the first expansion to the museum’s footprint since 1928 and the first phase of a master plan to expand and modernize their facilities. The LF Driscoll team converted the 120,000sf space into galleries and support spaces, including building a 59,000sf addition and upgrading the utilities underground to connect the Perelman building systems to the main museum building across two active roads. Designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects, the building now houses six new galleries, study centers, a library, an education resource center for teachers and a new café.
Once the Perelman Building was completed, the project team continued to work with the museum to execute their master plan vision, managing projects ranging from small updates and improvements that keep the museum humming, like department relocations and gift shop renovations, to large-scale initiatives, such as the restoration of the Rodin Museum and building a new, 440-space parking garage concealed beneath a green roof and sculpture garden.
PRESERVING THE PAST
From the very first project, the LF Driscoll team understood how important it would be to make sure all construction protected the museum’s landmark structures and delicate contents. Extensive planning, attention to every detail and abundant communication have become routine processes for even the smallest jobs.
“As Philadelphians ourselves, we are incredibly proud of the historic nature of the museum. All aspects of these projects are scrupulously designed and purchased to make sure we preserve the museum’s historic integrity,” says Jeff Hutwelker, project executive at LF Driscoll.
As one of Philadelphia’s most celebrated Art Deco structures, renovating and expanding the Perelman Building required exactly this kind of attention. For example, to accommodate new MEP systems, elevators and other modern upgrades, the team had to remove original finishes and other details, including 600sf of Indiana limestone, wood paneling and floors, light fixtures and brick. Those materials were meticulously removed, catalogued, stored, cleaned, restored and then reintegrated into the building.
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This precision has especially come in handy on the current effort to renovate and reorganize the museum building’s core without sacrificing its historic character. Part of this Frank Gehry-designed initiative includes adding 23,000sf of new gallery space and removing and rebuilding walls. Because the museum was originally built using Kasota limestone from a quarry in Minnesota, the project team sent a delegation back to that very quarry to make sure any new sections maintained consistent colors, patterns and features.
The core project expansion also requires installing new windows, posing a similar consistency challenge. To solve it, the team removed one of the building’s windows and sent it to the original manufacturer, Hope’s Windows in Buffalo, New York, to make exact replicas for the expanded section. “There are plenty of window types that would suffice for the building,” says Hutwelker. “But none would be exact. Returning to the original source may not be the easiest way, but we know it’s the only way to ensure we uphold the authenticity.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
When the core project is complete in 2020, the museum will be able to offer 90,000sf more public space, 61% more space for American art and 37% more space for contemporary art. And the museum isn’t stopping there. With more phases of their master plan still on the way, visitors to the museum can expect even more galleries, public spaces and amenities that will continue to mark the museum as one of the city’s most dynamic public institutions.
The LF Driscoll team is proud to have contributed to this ongoing effort and to become, as Hutwelker puts it, almost like extended museum employees themselves.
“We’ve truly come to know their facility. As we’ve gotten involved in project planning earlier and earlier, we have come to understand their priorities and anticipate their needs and any potential issues,” Hutwelker says. “We are completely dedicated to their mission and find it incredibly rewarding to see how the results affect not just the museum itself, but also the cultural pride and prominence of Philadelphia.”
Client: Philadelphia Museum of Art
Architect: Gehry Partners LLP
Engineer: MKA, ASW
Services: Preconstruction, Construction Management