Critics and art-lovers tend to admire Fort Worth’s three major art museums as much for their architecture, all by high-profile architects, as for the artworks they house. Philip Johnson designed the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, calling it the building of his career; Tadao Ando, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (one of his few designs in the United States); and Louis Kahn, the Kimbell Art Museum (generally considered to have the finest light of any museum anywhere for viewing art).
Before Renzo Piano’s new building at the Kimbell, the museum had run out of space to show much of its permanent collection while hosting special exhibitions. Piano’s new building provides that needed space and more. Altogether, the Piano Pavilion’s three spacious galleries provide more than 16,000 square feet of additional space for viewing art, plus classrooms, meeting spaces, and a concert hall with almost 300 bright red seats.
Everyone involved in the process—from the Kimbell’s board and staff to Renzo Piano and his team of designers, engineers, and builders—had extraordinary reverence and respect for the original Kahn building. What they made together—65 feet opposite the Kahn, across a great, green lawn—is a building that converses with it. The Piano Pavilion orients—or reorients—visitors to the front entrance of the Kahn. For years, because of proximity to parking, the back door had become the main entrance, and many visitors never saw the reflecting pools, heard the soothing cascade of water, or walked through the grove of trees at the front as Kahn intended. Now that visitors can park underground, staircases lead directly to the midst of all that. In fact, on opening day this past November, Piano said plainly, “The Kahn Building is one of the buildings I like most in my life.”
Off I go to see the results of this collaboration with Onur Teke, a member of the Piano team who was on site as the smooth, blue-gray concrete walls were poured, the 100-foot Douglas fir ceiling beams installed, and the oak floor laid. We walk through the Asian collection—mostly sculpture and precious pottery—installed in its new home. We pause at the four 18th-Century paintings depicting Roman mythology by François Boucher, now hung side-by-side, an orientation not possible previously due to space constraints. As I look around in wonder, Teke doesn’t need to point out the advantageous use of glass throughout: Transparent walls and roof panels allow filtered natural light to illuminate the art and the building itself but also tie them to the outdoors. And a sidewalk in front of the low-slung building invitingly connects to streets on either side of the campus.
Later, I walk to the Modern Art Museum and loop through a traveling exhibit of works from Mexico City before a fabulous quick lunch at the museum’s Cafe Modern, which overlooks the museum’s reflecting pond. Then it’s up the hill to the Amon Carter. Before going in to view a show of 1930s Texas Regionalism (here through April), I turn to face a vista of downtown Fort Worth. And I think about the words of architect Renzo Piano himself: “Art makes people better people. A building for art makes a city a better place to live.”