Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Addition

Renzo Piano Building Workshop with Stantec Boston, 2012

Harleston Parker Medal, 2015

Preservation Achievement Award, 2012

This is less an addition to one of Boston’s most eclectic museums, than a visitors’ center for the beloved original structure. Its café, shop, library, performance hall, greenhouse and generous lobby relieve the pressure on Gardener’s recreation of a 15th century Venetian Palace, allowing it to remain the repository for art centered on a grand landscaped courtyard that it was always meant to be.

Like the original, it is a big block of a building, wrapped in copper panels rather than stucco and stone. But where Gardener’s former home looks inward, Piano’s addition connects to the world outside. An entry pavilion, the greenhouse, and the first floor visitor amenities all look out through walls of glass to the Fenway neighborhood and the museum next door. A glazed bridge connects the two together, and an elegant stairway climbs to the gallery, theater and restoration center upstairs. Each turn allows the visitors to re-discover the old museum and to see it in a new light.

Piano has layered elements on top of each other to express their function and construction. Exit stairs from the theater hang off of its cubic volume and glass roofs float on top of the steel structure below. The theater’s four stories of seating in narrow wrap-around balconies allow concert goers to have an intimate connection to the performers. Lighting, sunscreens, bookshelves and seating are all integrated into the fabric of the building with the ingenuity expected from this Pritzker Prize-winning architect. Like Gardener’s original, the addition has both a majestic presence and a comfortable residential scale.

Images: ©Nic Lehoux, Renzo Piano Building Workshop