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Gardner Museum Opens New Wing Designed by Renzo Piano

It’s not easy working on a building when spirits visit it. “There is this lady flying around the rooms,” says Italian architect Renzo Piano.

The lady Piano is talking about is Isabella Stewart Gardner, whose presence was felt throughout the eight years of planning and construction put into the new wing of the museum that bears her name.

Exterior view of new Evans Way Park entrance. (photo courtesy of © Nic Lehoux / Renzo Piano Building Workshop)

The new 70,000-square-foot wing will open its doors to the public on January 19, celebrating the glass and steel space with three days of free access to the museum. “These free days are our way of recognizing and thanking the community at large for their tremendous enthusiasm and support during our expansion,” says museum Director Anne Hawley.

The expansion consists of a six-level building (two levels are underground) situated next to Gardner’s historic “palace.” The two buildings are connected via a glass tunnel cutting through the garden, giving visitors the chance to see the 1902 palace while making their way to it.

Museum Director Anne Hawley (left) and architect Renzo Piano. (photo © Nicola Orichuia)

“Everything is about light and transparency,” says Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, a native of Genoa, Italy. “While you are moving in the new building you are always looking at the palace. The palace is constantly the object of desire, the constant reference.”

Indeed, the new building’s tall glass walls continually remind visitors that they are in one of two halves, and the presence of the taller “Palazzo” is an invitation to visit the other part of the museum, which still holds all of Gardner’s invaluable art collection — including works of Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Manet, Degas, Whistler and Sargent.

The Piano-designed building does not serve the function of offering more space to what the palace has held for the past 110 years. Instead, the new building offers several spaces for everything the museum was finding hard to fit in the old Gardner.

Calderwood Hall (photo courtesy © Nic Lehoux / Renzo Piano Building Workshop)

The centerpiece of the new building is Calderwood Hall, a unique cube-shaped performance hall, featuring 296 seats spaced over four levels. The hall can feature musicians playing without any need of amplification. Furthermore, the hall has allowed for the Tapestry Room in the old museum to be restored to its old glory, as it will stop serving as concert hall.

The new building also features a special exhibition gallery, an education studio, two artist-in-residence apartments and state-of-the-art conservation labs and archival/collection storage. All visitors will also notice a new restaurant, a living room and a greenhouse.

All of this will be open to the public on January 19, when Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino will celebrate the opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

About Nicola Orichuia

Nicola is an Italian journalist and media enthusiast living in the United States. He keeps an eye on the Italian-American communities across the country and is always looking for positive stories to highlight.