As regular citizens--architectural civilians you might say--we all walk through contemporary spaces and buildings and rooms that we might notice and admire. And many that we just pass through. As an architect, I might be a little more sensitive to those spaces and buildings and rooms, but more often than I might like to admit, I just pass through, too. That’s because the design is okay. It may even be very good- excellent even--but rarely do I say to myself "I wish I had worked on this.” That is, until I walked through the new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. On approach, at every corner, down every path, at every detail…I said to myself, this is architecture at its highest level. This is what it means to be an architect.
It was a project rife with controversy and naysayers (“You can’t move it out of Merion without ruining the experience”). It had very specific rules from the Barnes Estate (“You must reproduce the painting collection rooms exactly.”) Tod Williams and Billie Tsien had big and delicate problems to solve. And yet…I wasn’t thinking about the problems when I walked through. I was thinking…what a beautiful approach (thanks immeasurably to Laurie Olin’s fully integrated landscape design), what complete and lovely details, what wonderful materials, what attention to light and time and space and awareness and art and joy. And I didn’t even see the friggin’ paintings.
-- Barbara Laskey Weinreich, RA, is a principal at MNA in New York City. She has worked extensively with Ralph Lauren, completing flagships in Stockholm, China and Russia, among other retail, commercial and resident design clients.