Located in Fort Worth, Texas, the Kimbell Art Museum by Louis Kahn has become a mecca for all who are interested in modern architecture. The element of natural light is the main focus of the design, and creates elegant spaces that are perfectly suited for the art that it houses.
The distinct form of the Kimbell Museum's cycloid barrel vaults are rimmed with narrow plexiglass skylights, providing room for natural light to penetrate into the spaces. To diffuse this light, pierced-aluminum reflectors shaped like wings hang below, illuminating the smooth surfaces of the concrete vault while providing elegant and enchanting light conditions for the works of art.
Three 100-foot bays that are each fronted by a barrel-vaulted portico comprise the main facade to the west, where the central entrance is marked by it's glazing and recession from the rest of the facade. The building is punctuated by three courtyards, allowing for more light, air flow and relationships between interior and exterior spaces.
Completely modern in it's revivalist detail and lack of ornament, the hints of Roman architecture include the grand arches and vaults. These were made possible by the use of concrete, travertine and white oak, all the key materials of the project. Most of the galleries are located on the upper floor, to allow for most natural lighting. Air ducts and mechanical services are located in the spaces where edges of vaults come close to meeting.
Kay Kimbell and his wife Velma Fuller set up the Kimbell Art Foundation in 1935 as an established art institute. Upon his death in 1964, they had collected one of the best selections of old masters, and so the estate was bequeathed to the foundation with the intentions of building a first class museum. A "Policy Statement" by the foundation director Richard Brown set clear guidelines regarding the new building as a work of art.
He specified that "natural light should play a vital part" in the design, and interviewed many architects including Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Pier Luigi Nervi, Gordon Bunshaft, and Edward Larrabee Barnes, but commission was awarded to Kahn in late 1966. The two couldn't have been a better pair, as Brown had always admired Kahn's emphasis on natural light.
Architect Renzo Piano has been hired to design an add-on structure to the existing museum, with the intentions of providing extra gallery spaces that will be used for classrooms and studios.
The auditorium is acoustically impressive and considerably large. Interestingly enough, most enter the building through what he considered the back entrance to the east. With the new proposed deadline, the new building and garage act as a block against entering this way, and it will direct visitors to the intentional entrance. The new project is not attached to the Kahn building, but it respects its scale, plan and materiality while also exploring it's more open and transparent character.