Kimbell Expansion Brings Controversy, Renewed Focus

Addition to highlight original's entrance


Cowtown's architectural jewel is in the process of getting a significant touch-up, but the project is stirring up some controversy.

The Kimbell Art Museum is considered a piece of art that houses some historic works of art. The museum's expansion is being watched by the entire architecture world.

"The project has continued to evolve," said Eric Lee, Kimbell director. "(Renzo Piano's) putting an enormous amount of attention into this project."

Piano, the architect behind the project, worked for the Kimbell's original building architect, Louis Kahn. Kahn's building is world-renowned, and many are worried that the expansion will damage his masterpiece.

But Piano is said to be taking that concern very seriously.

Lee said that the trees, lawn and water features will be returned to their original look when construction is complete.

"We have to be extremely careful, and the integrity of the Kahn building will not be touched in anyway," Lee said.

The Kimbell is expanding because it needs more space.

"The Kimbell has long had to take down large portions of the permanent collection whenever it hosts special exhibitions," Lee said. "We will solve that problem with the expansion."

A planned expansion of the measure 20 years ago also drew controversy, said Mark Thistlewaite, a professor of art history in Texas Christian University's School of Art. But the proposal to enlarge the Kahn building was soundly rejected.

"They had an idea to add on to it, and that turned out be very controversial, and they didn't do it," he said.

This time, the Kimbell has been very careful and thoughtful about the expansion, and the controversy has settled down in recent years, Thistlewaite said.

"I think it's going to pleasantly surprise those who may be concerned with what's actually going on," he said.

Lee said the new addition will highlight a feature of Kahn's building that is often missed by visitors. Most visiting the Kimbell use the back entrance to access the museum, missing out on what many consider to be the gem of the building.

"I think 95 percent of the people who visit the Kahn building never even see that," Lee said.

The renewed focus on the western front comes because of a parking garage in the new building. A glass elevator will take visitors up to ground level and have them facing the front.

The work is scheduled to be competed by the end of 2013.

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