Thursday, October 19, 2006

Gehry to 'carve into the ground' for Philadelphia museum project

Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry, famed for his sculptural exteriors and titanium fins, has been asked to design a museum that's completely underground.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art announced Thursday that it has commissioned Gehry to design a $500-million US expansion.

The new building will be nine metres below ground, underneath one wing of the historic museum.

Gail Harrity, who oversaw construction of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Gehry's most famous project, is now chief operating officer of the Philadelphia museum.

He asked if Gehry would be interested in designing the underground extension.

"I said, 'Yes. It would be great to try to make beautiful music with a building with no exterior,'" Gehry said.

"I love the idea of trying to carve into the ground."

Gehry said he envisions punching holes through the floors to create high vertical spaces.

The Philadelphia museum is one of the largest museums in the U.S. with a collection of 225,000 artifacts, including Asian, European and American works.

The existing Beaux Arts museum was built for Philadelphia's great Centennial Exposition of 1876.

The expansion plans call for adding 7,400 square metres of galleries to house large contemporary sculptures and special exhibits.

Museum director Anne d'Harnoncourt said Gehry was chosen ahead of 20 other architects for his skill in bringing natural light to interiors and creating display spaces.

Gehry, now based in Los Angeles, also designed the expansion of the Art Gallery of Ontario, which is under construction in Toronto.