With eyes on the new glazed pavilion designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, here’s a look back at Louis Kahn’s original Kimbell, which put the institution. The Kimbell Art Museum by architect Louis I. Kahn was built in Fort Worth, Texas, United States in Past show featuring works by Louis Kahn at Kimbell Art Museum Fort Worth, Camp Bowie Boulevard Mar 26th – Jun 25th

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The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort WorthTexashosts an art collection as well as traveling art exhibitions, educational programs and an extensive research library.

Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture

Its initial artwork came from the private collection of Kay and Velma Kimbell, who also provided funds for a new building to house it. The building was designed by architect Louis I.

Kahn and is widely recognized as one of the most significant works of architecture of recent times. It is especially noted for the wash of silvery natural light across its vaulted gallery ceilings. Kay Kimbell was a wealthy Fort Worth businessman who built an empire of over 70 companies in a variety of industries. He married Velma Fuller, who kindled his interest in art collecting by taking him to an art show in Fort Worth inwhere he bought a British painting. They set up the Kimbell Art Foundation in to establish an art institute, and by the time of his death inthe couple had amassed what was considered to be the best selection of old masters in the Southwest.

Kay left much of his estate to the Kimbell Art Foundation, and Velma bequeathed her share of the estate to the foundation as well, with the key directive to “build a museum of the first class. The Foundation’s board of trustees hired Richard Fargo Brown, then director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Artas the founding director of the museum with the task of constructing a building to house the Kimbell’s art collection.

Upon accepting the post, Brown declared that the new building should itself be a work of art, “as much a gem as one of the Rembrandts or Van Dycks housed within it. Brown discussed the goals of the institution and its musem building with the trustees and summarized them in a four-page “Policy Statement” and a nineteen-page “Pre-Architectural Program” in June After interviewing a number of prominent architects, the museum hired Louis I.

Kahn in October Construction for the Kimbell Art Museum began in the summer of The new building opened in October arr quickly achieved an international reputation for architectural excellence.

Brown also expanded the Kimbell collection by acquiring several works of significant quality by artists like DuccioEl GrecoRubensand Rembrandt.

Previously he had been the director of the newly opened Yale Center for British Artwhich, coincidentally, was also designed by Louis Kahn. He had also been a curator at the Yale Art Gallery, Kahn’s first art museum. Pillsbury continued the art acquisition program in an aggressive but disciplined fashion. Richard Brettell, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, said, “He was, in some ways, single-handedly responsible for turning the Kimbell from an institution with a great building into one whose collection matched its architecture in quality”.

InPillsbury announced plans to expand the museum’s building to accommodate its enlarged collection, but the plan was dropped because of strong opposition to any major alteration of the original Louis Kahn structure. Designed by Renzo Pianoand relocated to the west lawn, the new structure opened to the public in November Inbefore the museum even had a building, founding director Brown included this directive in his Policy Statement: The European collection is the most extensive in the museum and includes Michelangelo’s first known painting, The Torment of Saint Anthonythe only painting by Michelangelo on exhibit in the Americas.

The Asian collection comprises sculptures, paintings, bronzes, ceramics, and works of decorative art from ChinaKoreaJapanIndiaNepalTibetCambodiaand Thailand. Precolumbian art is represented by Maya works in ceramic, stone, shell, and jadeOlmecZapotecand Aztec sculpture, as well as pieces from the Conte and Huari cultures.

The African collection consists primarily of bronze, wood, and terracotta sculpture from West and Central Africa, including examples from NigeriaAngolaand the Democratic Republic of the Congoand Oceanic art is represented by a Maori figure.

The museum owns only a few pieces created after the midth century believing that era to be the province of its neighbor, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and no American art believing that to be the province of its other neighbor, the Amon Carter Museum. The museum also houses a substantial library with over 59, books, periodicals and auction catalogs that are available as a resource to art historians and to faculty and graduate students from surrounding universities.


Brown’s “Policy Statement” set a clear architectural direction by calling for the new building to be “a work of art. From Kahn’s point of view, Brown was an ideal client. Brown had been an admirer of Kahn’s work for some time, and the approach he specified for the building was very much in line with Kahn’s, particularly its emphasis on natural light.

Because Kahn had a reputation for significant time and cost overruns, a local engineering and architectural firm owned by Preston M. Geren was made associate architect, a practice followed in Fort Worth for out-of-state architects. Frank Sherwood served as their project coordinator. The Geren organization had a solid reputation for bringing in projects on time and within budget, but by their own admission they were not especially innovative.

Kahn once said, “the building gives you answers as it grows and becomes itself. The new museum was to be built on a gentle slope below the Amon Carter Museumwhose entrance and terrace faced the Fort Worth skyline. Kahn was asked to build the Kimbell museum no more than 40 feet 12 m high so it would not interfere with the view from the Carter Museum. Kahn initially proposed a low but very spacious building feet m square, but Brown rejected that proposal and insisted that Kahn design a much smaller structure, a decision that would have repercussions several years later when a proposal to expand the building created a storm of controversy.

Kimbell Art Museum – Data, Photos & Plans – WikiArquitectura

The museum is composed of 16 parallel vaults that are each feet The vaults are grouped into three wings. The north and south wings each have six vaults, with the western one open as a portico. The central space has four vaults, with the western one open as an entry porch facing a courtyard partially enclosed by the two outside wings. With one exception, the art galleries are located on the upper floor of the museum to allow access to natural light.

Service and curatorial spaces as well as an additional gallery occupy the ground floor. Air ducts and other mechanical services are located in the flat channels between the vaults. Kahn used several techniques to give the galleries an inviting atmosphere. The ends of the vaults, which are made of concrete block, are faced with travertine inside and out. One of them penetrates the gallery floor to bring natural light to the conservation studio on the ground floor.

The landscape has been described as “Kahn’s most elegant built example of landscape planning” by Philadelphia landscape architect George Patton. The sound of footsteps on the gravel walkway echoes from the walls on either side of the courtyard and is magnified under the curved ceiling of the entry porch.

After that subtle preparation, the visitor enters the hushed museum with silvery light spread across its ceiling. Pattison, who had also worked with Kahn on other projects, was an employee of Patton. Kahn’s first design for the galleries called for angular vaults of folded concrete plates with light slots at the top.

Brown liked the light slots but rejected this particular design because it had the ceilings 30 feet 9 m high, too high for the museum he envisioned. Further research by Marshall Meyers, Kahn’s project architect for the Kimbell museum, revealed that using a cycloid curve for the gallery vaults would reduce the ceiling height and provide other benefits as well.

The relatively flat cycloid curve would produce elegant galleries that were wide in proportion to their height, allowing the ceiling to be lowered to 20 feet 6 m.

Louis Kahn / Kimbell Art Museum | THE GILDED OWL

Kahn was pleased with this development because it allowed him to design the museum with galleries that resembled the ancient Roman vaults he had always admired. The thin, curved shells needed for the roof were challenging to build, however, so Kahn called in a leading authority on concrete construction, August Komendantwith whom he had worked before and who, like Kahn, was born in Estonia [4]: Kahn generally referred to the museum’s roof form as a vaultbut Komendant explained that it was actually a shell playing the role of a beam.

True vaultssuch as the Roman vaults that Kahn admired, will collapse if not supported along the entire lengths of each side.

Not fully understanding the capabilities of modern concrete shellsKahn initially planned to include many more support columns than were necessary for the gallery roofs. The Geren firm, which had been asked to look for ways to keep costs low, objected that the cycloid vaults would be too expensive and urged a flat roof instead. Kahn, however, insisted on a vaulted roof, which would enable him to create galleries with a comforting, room-like atmosphere yet with minimal need for columns or other internal structures that would reduce the museum’s flexibility.

Eventually a deal was struck whereby Geren would be responsible for the foundation and basement while Komendant would be responsible for the upper floors and cycloid shells. The effect was, in his words, “like a piece of sculpture outside the building. Seymour as project manager. Virgil Earp and L.


Shaw, Byrne’s project superintendents, designed forms with a cycloid shape that were made from hinged plywood and lined with an oily coating so they could be reused to pour concrete for multiple sections of the vaults, helping to ensure consistency.

After all the concrete had been poured and strengthened with internal post-tensioning cables, however, the curved parts of the shells carried the weight of their lower straight edges instead of the other way around.

To prevent the shells from collapsing at the long light slots at their apexes, concrete struts were inserted at foot 3 m intervals. A relatively thick concrete arch was added to each end of the shells to stiffen them further.

To make it clear that the curved shells are supported only at their four corners and not by the walls at the ends of the vaults, thin arcs of transparent material were inserted between the curve of the shells and the end walls. Because the stiffening arches of the shells are thicker at the top, the transparent strips are tapered, thinner at the top than at the bottom.

In addition, a linear transparent strip was placed between the straight bottoms of the shells and the long exterior walls to show that the shells aren’t supported by those walls either.

In addition to revealing the building’s structure, these features bring additional natural light into the galleries in a way that is safe for the paintings.

The vault roofs, which are visible to approaching visitors, were covered with lead sheathing inspired by the lead covering of the complexly curved roofs of the Doge’s Palace and St.

Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy. In The Realm of Architecturedeclare that “in Kimgell Worth, Kahn created a skylight system without peer in the history of architecture.

Kahnsays the entry gallery is “one of the most beautiful spaces ever built,” with its “astonishing, ethereal, silver-colored light. Beyond Time and Style, said that “the light in the Kimbell gallery assumed an almost ethereal quality, and has been the distinguishing factor in its fame ever since. Creating a natural lighting system that has evoked such acclaim was challenging, and Kahn’s office and the lighting designer Richard Kelly investigated over approaches in their search for the proper skylight system.

The goal was to illuminate the galleries with indirect natural light while excluding all direct sunlight, which adt damage the artwork. He hired a computer expert to determine the exact shape of the reflector’s curve, making it one of the first architectural elements ever to be designed with computer technology. In areas without art, such as the lobby, cafeteria and library, the entire reflector is perforated, making it possible for people standing beneath to glimpse passing clouds.

In the gallery spaces, the central part of the reflector, which is directly beneath the sun, is solid, while the remainder is perforated. Indirector Ted Pillsbury, Brown’s successor, announced plans to add two wings to the north and south ends of the building and chose architect Romaldo Giurgola to design them.

A firestorm of protest erupted. A group of prominent architects signed a letter acknowledging the need for additional space but kahb that the proposed addition would compromise the proportions of the original. They noted that when Kahn himself was questioned about the possibility of a future expansion, he said that it should “occur as a new building and kimbbell situated away from the present structure across the lawn”.

Inthe idea of an expansion surfaced once again at a dinner in Fort Worth attended by Timothy Potts, the museum’s director at the time Eric M. Lee has been the director since March ; Kay Fortson, president of the Kimbell Art Foundation and a key figure in the creation of the original building; Ben Fortson, a trustee; and Sue Ann Kahn, Louis Kahn’s daughter and a vocal opponent of the original plan for expansion.