The Barnes….interpreted

The Barnes AdmissionThree weeks ago, we were in Philadelphia with a large group of Tigers for a long weekend that culminated in a visit to The Barnes Foundation, founded in 1922 by Dr. Alfred Barnes.

 Dr. Barnes by de ChiricoLocated in Merion PA, a short 5 miles from downtown Philadelphia, the original building was designed by Paul Cret in classical style within a 7-acre arboretum.. Dr. Barnes amassed a collection of over 2500 objects. Over 800 are paintings with an estimated worth of $25 billion, including 181 Renoirs, 65 Cezannes, 55 Matisse and 46 Picassos. The fascinating story of Dr. Barnes is found in “The Devil and Dr. Barnes”.

The Art of the StealNot without a lot of controversy, the museum moved to central Philadelphia in 2012. “The Art of the Steal, a 2009 documentary, tells the tale. Or click on this link for some of that story   As engrossing as the book, the movie and the NYT are, the story I want to tell is about the remarkable building designed on the Parkway by Todd Williams and Billie Tsien.

c Billie Tsein

c Billie Tsein

At a presentation by The Barnes’ Director of Development, I was totally captivated by this eloquent sketch concept of the two museum buildings, old and new. It is a perfect form of interpretation showing the Merion building as “gallery in a garden” and interpreting it on the Parkway as a “garden in a gallery”. Bingo. Not a copy but an interpretation of an historic building.

c David Brownlee

c David Brownlee

“Two Buildings One Mission” by David B. Brownlee is the story of relationships between the Merion building and the center city building  and the steps that brought their plans to fruition. The details are fascinating.

Barnes Entrance Reflecting PoolThe pathway to the main entrance is flanked by reflecting pools. Landscape designer Laurie Olin embellished and complimented the architecture of the building.

Early Model of the BarnesThe theme of a ‘garden within the building’ can be seen in this early architectural model showing translucent shapes which eventually would manifest themselves as interior garden spaces.

Barnes Inner GardenToday, this garden space is open to the sky and is surrounded by the glass walls of the library and the visitor assembly space.

Barnes Pottery Wall Barnes WAiting WallThe visitor space is home to a collection of beautiful southwestern pottery whose colors are reflected on the opposite wall.   It is probably the latent interior designer in me that likes these thoughtful details.

Barnes Light Court WallThe central ‘Light Box’  is the major thoroughfare to the galleries and filled with repetitive patterns creating a rhythmic flow space and texture. The large serene spaces contrast with the tightly packed galleries, as set out by Dr. Barnes, and maintained exactly today even to the same light exposure as they had in Merion.

Barnes Negve Limestone chiseledInside, the ‘Roman Gold’ limestone panels, from the Negve desert in Israel, are warm, softly colored and hand chiseled with different patterns.

Felted Silk and wool panelsBarnes Silk and wool panelsThe felted textile panels above the stone were specially made by Claudy Jongstra, a Dutch textile artist. As the light changes across them, they lend a subtle color and textural difference to the chiseled limestone as well as offer some sound baffling.

Floor PatternsBlack and White Patterns sofasThe architects were inspired by the African decorative arts in the collection which show up in the design of floor tile patterns and the low benches of visitor seating.

Barnes Outer CourtyardBarnes and the CityDeceptively simple plantings frame the building’s relationship with the center of Philadelphia. When next you go to Philly, do pay a visit. You won’t be disappointed.


About Susan

Susan Detjens is a former landscape painter, she lectures, demonstrates and runs workshops on floral design for museums, horticultural organizations and garden clubs across the US.
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