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Philadelphia Museum of Art breaks ground on Gehry’s core project

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Gehry: Can it do what Bilbao did? Hell yeah.

The North Entrance off Kelly Drive will re-open to the public as part of the Core Project at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Photos by Melissa Romero

Today, the Philadelphia Museum of Art broke ground on its $196 million core project, the first phase of a larger master plan led by architect Frank Gehry.

“Can it do what we did in Bilbao? Hell yeah,” said Gehry at the groundbreaking ceremony, which took place Thursday morning in the Vaulted Walkway.

Gehry said he was approached by the Philadelphia Museum of Art to design its master plan after the success of the contemporary Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which opened in 1997. “I was asked, ‘Could you do the same to our building that you did for Bilbao—but you can’t do anything to the outside?”

Gehry answered, “Why not? Let’s try.”

His master plan for the art museum was adopted in 2006 and revealed to the public in 2014. It builds open the foundations of the museum’s original architects, Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele.

“Classical buildings have an X and Y axis, but here that was confiscated by interventions over the years,” Gehry said. “Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele left a legacy here—the DNA and bones of the place are really fantastic. We just had to uncork a few of the clogged arteries.”

Unclogging the museum includes opening up a total of 90,000 square feet of new space to the public, including 23,000 square feet of gallery space. The Vaulted Walkway, which hasn’t been open to the public since the 1960s, will also be restored and accessible via the old North Entrance off Kelly Drive.

Rendering by Gehry Partners, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art

The $196 million core project is part of the museum’s massive $525 million “It Starts Here” campaign. At the groundbreaking, the museum, which is owned by the City of Philadelphia, also announced that it has since raised a staggering $326 million of the campaign.

During the three-year-long renovations, the museum will be open, although CEO Timothy Rub warned that “things may be a little messy.” The first results of the project—the renovation of the North Entrance off Kelly Drive and the Vaulted Walkway—are expected to open in 2019, followed by the rest of the renovations in 2020.

Until then, take a tour of the Vaulted Walkway as it stands today.

The Van Pelt Auditorium has already been demolished.