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5 ways the Philadelphia Museum of Art will look different by 2020

The “core project” of Frank Gehry’s master plan will be the most transformative phase

The Core Project at the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be the most complex phase of the museum’s master plan.
Courtesy of Gehry Partners/Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art officially broke ground yesterday on its $196 million “core project,” the first and most intensive phase of Frank Gehry’s ambitious master plan for the whole museum.

“I want to take that bulldozer and go through that wall,” Gehry said at the ceremony.

The architect’s impatience isn’t without warrant. The groundbreaking on the master plan has been a long time coming—Gehry was chosen as architect in 2006 and the plan was revealed in 2014—and it’ll be a while until we start to see any changes. Construction on the core project is expected to wrap up in 2020.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is, well, ginormous. It was designed by Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele and opened in 1928, and hasn’t undergone a renovation of this size in its 89-year history. The core project is expected to open up another 90,000 square feet to the public.

That said, trying to wrap one’s mind around the core project can be overwhelming. To put things into perspective, here are five major ways the art museum will look different by 2020, in before-after photos and renderings.


The North Entrance

The North Entrance off Kelly Drive has been closed to the public for decades. But it will be one of the first features to debut, starting in 2019. The entrance will open up to the Vaulted Walkway, and there will be an elevator to take folks up to the rest of the museum.


Vaulted Walkway

The Vaulted Walkway has been shut off from the public since the 1960s. It’s a towering stretch of the museum and its opening is one of the ways Gehry plans to “unclog the arteries” of the museum.


Lenfest Hall

As it stands now, the west entrance of the museum from the Rocky steps blocks the view of the Great Stair Hall with a circular lobby desk. That will change with the renovations, which will bring the hall and forum into view immediately upon entrance.


Van Pelt Auditorium/Forum

The Van Pelt Auditorium, shown above in 2016, has already been demolished to make way for the Forum, which the museum describes as “the most highly trafficked and recognizable areas created during the Core Project.” Although the auditorium will be long gone, the Forum will still serve as a venue for events and performances.


Education Studios

The art museum has a large education program for children, teenagers, and students, but not a lot of dedicated space for it. That will change, though: spaces that were typically used for back-of-house functions are converted into education studios, with projectors, tablets, and technology-advanced features.