Originally designed by Louis Kahn in 1972, the Kimbell Art Museum’s new building by RPBW was constructed to accommodate the museum’s growing exhibition and education programs, while the Kahn building will retain the museum’s permanent collection.
The programs and collection of Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum have grown dramatically in recent years, far beyond what the museum envisioned in the 1970s, and resulting in a severe lack of space. The new building provides gallery space for temporary exhibitions, classrooms, and studios for the museum’s education department, a large auditorium of 299 seats, an expanded library, and underground parking. The expansion roughly doubles the museum’s gallery space. Furthermore, the siting of the new building and parking area will change the tendency of most visitors to enter the museum’s original building by what Kahn considered the back entrance, guiding them naturally to the front entrance in the west facade.
Subtly echoing Kahn’s building in height, scale, and general layout, the RPBW building has a more open, transparent character. Light and discreet (half of the footprint is hidden underground), yet with its own character, the structure creates a dialogue between old and new and consists of two connected structures.
The front section, facing the west façade of Kahn’s building across landscaped grounds, has a three-part façade, referencing the activities inside. At its center, a lightweight, transparent, glazed section serves as the new museum entrance. On either side, behind pale concrete walls, are two gallery spaces for temporary exhibitions. A colonnade of square concrete columns wraps around the sides of the building, supporting solid wooden beams and the overhanging eaves of a glass roof, providing shade for the glazed facades facing north and south. Glass, concrete, and wood are the predominant materials used in the new building, echoing those used in the original.
In the galleries, a sophisticated roof system layers stretched fabric, wooden beams, glass, aluminum louvers, and photovoltaic cells to create a controlled day-lit environment. This can be supplemented by lighting hidden behind the scrim fabric. A glazed passageway leads into the building’s second structure. Hidden under a turf, insulating roof is a third gallery for light-sensitive works, as well as an auditorium and museum education facilities.
Views through the new building to the landscape and Kahn building beyond emphasize the key motifs of transparency and openness. The new facility is highly energy efficient, requiring only one fourth of the energy consumed by the Kahn building.