Step Into the Shiny, New Renzo Piano-Masterminded Harvard Art Museums

Daniel Rauchwerger Daniel Rauchwerger

In an official first preview to the press since the beginning of its construction, Harvard Art Museums unveiled Monday their shiny new Renzo Piano Building Workshop-designed addition to its landmark building on Quincy Street in Cambridge, MA. The newly constructed facility, which will now combine all of Harvard University’s museums under one roof, has been undergoing extensive construction since January 2010. While much work is yet ahead with the building just now ready for the installation of the museum’s artworks, it is due to open to the public this November.

Aerial photo of Harvard Art Museums via Les Vants

Photo by Peter Vanderwarker

The new extension to the existing 1927 brick building adds 12,000 square feet of exhibition space, for a total of 43,000. Stressing elements of light and circulation, Renzo Piano’s office chose to create a glass pyramid above the building’s central courtyard. Elaborate details of lighting and shading fixtures, thin tectonic elements, and glass partitions create an illusion of an extremely light structure with much transparency and reflectivity.

Photo by Daniel Rauchwerger

The Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. Photo by Zak Jensen

Permanent collections gallery featuring 20th-century German art during installation. Photo by Antoinette Hocbo.

Also new is the addition of a 300-seat auditorium, an expansive and carefully designed restoration department, and numerous study spaces. Characteristic to the work of Renzo Piano, the building incorporates a plethora of materials, including steel, glass, stained wood, concrete, and slate.

Photos by Zak Jensen

Photo by Daniel Rauchwerger

Leading Monday’s tour of the project was Thomas W. Lentz, director of Harvard Art Museums, along with a crew of the institution’s curators. Present, too, was architect Elisabetta Trezzani, partner at Renzo Piano Building Workshop, as well as other architects who were involved in the planning and execution of the project — both from Renzo Piano’s office and from their collaborators at Payette (a Boston-based architecture firm).

Photo by Daniel Rauchwerger

Photo by Peter Vanderwarker

Renzo Piano Building Workshop, which has become a name almost equivalent to museum-architecture in institutional America, is also responsible for the expansion of the nearby Gardner Museum in Boston; in Spring 2015, the firm is due to complete yet another project of the sort, with the opening of the new Whitney Museum of American Art in downtown Manhattan.