Lighting history

By GREG COOK  |  February 3, 2010

The Gardner project, however, is probably more akin to Piano's 2006 expansion of New York's Morgan Library. He's been praised for how gracefully his new structure — atrium, reading room, galleries, performance hall, storage, store, café — sits in among and links three existing buildings. Yet some have complained that — as Boston blogger Thomas Garvey has said of the plans for the Gardner — it's an "anonymous corporate façade" next to the wonderful eccentricity of the old historic house museum.

Piano's Gardner project echoes his Morgan design. It is like four separate buildings joined at the center by a cruciform atrium. In addition to the way the old and new buildings contrast, the key concern is how Piano will join the two structures. Gardner herself designed the main entrance of her museum so that you passed through a dark narrow hall that then opened up at the breathtaking central edge of the courtyard. The effect was diminished after her death, in 1924, when the front door was switched to the front corner, making the entrance an awkward zigzag. (The original entrance became the exit.)

Piano's new entrance begins to address this problem. But until I walk it, I won't really know whether the increased distance from front door to art will be frustrating, and how much will be lost by coming in at the back, since the courtyard is oriented toward the front. After walking along a 50-foot-long glassed-in corridor that passes through the outdoor garden, and then into a dim narrow corridor at the back of the palazzo, you'll emerge into the light at what's now the left rear corner of the courtyard. May it shine.

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