When well-respected Pulitzer-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger left The New Yorker after years of being its architecture critic to go to Vanity Fair, some reacted like they'd lost Inga Saffron to Gawker. But Goldberger said he expected VF to give him more room to breathe, and if his lengthy feature on the new Barnes is any indication, the magazine is committed to granting him plenty of space.
Goldberger's review of the Parkway Barnes is nothing short of a rave. He calls the building, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien architects, "a strong and distinctive new work of architecture on its own, a design that navigates skillfully between the dangers of slavish copying the old Barnes and what, for this unusual institution, would be the even more pernicious alternative of corporate-museum modernism." He extols Williams and Tsien for limiting the number of projects they take on so they can do what they do best: "soulful" work that's designed with meditative care and that transcends any expectations of the modern. He is an enormous fan of the husband/wife team.
On the subject of the controversial move to the Parkway, he comes down, for now, on the side of the new, though he admits it remains to be seen if the promise of improved public access will be realized. From the art side, though, he's resolute:
"There is no question that the paintings are more visible in their new home; they look better in every way, and they are likely to be far better cared for in a modern, humidity- and temperature-controlled environment. You may or may not believe that visitors fare better in the new Barnes. But you cannot dispute the fact that the Cezannes and Renoirs and Matisses do." Perhaps the most important voice on the new Barnes is Inga Saffron, the Philadelphia Inquirer's architecture critic, who knows better than any other the history of the building and the stakes involved in its success or failure. Like Goldberger, she has tremendous admiration for Tsien and Williams, who she calls "two of our most sensitive architects." She praises much of their work on the Barnes, and brings in a broader historical (and local) perspective no one else has:
The ghost of the great Philadelphia architect [Louis Kahn] is everywhere at the Barnes, in the heft and feel of the materials, in the gentle perfection of the interior light. Unlike starchitect show-offs who wow with impossible shapes, Williams and Tsien are masters of craft and light. They treat stone like fabric, etching and marking to reveal its personality. Their hand is on every material surface, down to the gorgeous bronze radiator covers, a nod to Kahn's at the Yale Art Gallery. Philadelphia has not seen such quality detailing in decades. She also appreciated the architects' ability to remain faithful to Albert Barnes' vision:
"[Their] compositional strategy struck me as an architectural echo of the formalist approach Barnes used to arrange his paintings. Paintings with diagonals are grouped in one place, those with diamond shapes in another. The architects seem to have considered the philosophical implications of every joint. As with any high art, you need to be a close reader to gain the full meaning of the Barnes' architecture."
But she's not impressed by the musuem's parking lot, which she believes in unnecessary, and she feels the ultimate result is ruined by the fact that the museum isn't fully integrated into the city's plan, making the Barnes "sadly - no, tragically - a long way from being a successful addition to the city."
The Barnes is also receiving strong coverage in other media outlets, such as Architectural Digest. The June issue has an article on Tsen and Williams, who the magazine included in its 2012 list of 100 top architects and designers. AD also included the Barnes in its list of Big, Bold, and Buzz-Worthy Buidings of 2012, "a dozen showstopping architectural projects around the world that people will be talking about this year—and beyond." (The photograph of the Barnes that accompanies the piece in the June issue was taken by Curbed Philly's staff photographer Laura Kicey. We just had to say that.)