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Architect Renzo Piano Visits His Baby, The Kimbell's Piano Pavilion

Bill Zeeble
Architect Renzo Piano, center, tossed a Frisbee Tuesday with Eric Lee, the Kimbell Art Museum director.

One of the world’s most sought-after architects was in Fort Worth Tuesday for a preview of his latest creation. It’s the Kimbell Museum’s new addition by the architect -- and it's appropriately called the Renzo Piano Pavilion.

Sitting exactly 65 yards from the Kimbell Museum across a vast, elm tree-dotted lawn is the new, sleekly sharp-edged concrete, glass and wood Piano Pavilion. Piano said the distance between buildings is key, so they can talk to each other – have a kind of dialogue

“Because when you have a dialogue, if you talk too close to somebody, it’s aggressive, when you get too close," Piano said. "When you stay too far, it’s too cold. So you have to establish the right distance and we measured this many, many times.”

Piano said the four acres of grass between the buildings leaves a space for people to play or to picnic and enjoy the urban space, as he did on Tuesday -- he gleefully tossed a Frisbee.

Piano said that space also reintroduces people to the grandeur of the Kimbell Museum’s front entrance. For decades, most people have entered architect Louis Kahn’s masterpiece from the back.

Looking across the lawn from his Pavilion, Piano says people will now see the Kimbell’s front entrance anew, with its barrel vault design.

“It’s a great building," Piano said. "A great scale. Unpretentious. Beautiful. Poetic. Magic.”

But he knew that adding to the museum’s architectural legacy created a trap that could be tragic. As he told KERA’s Art & Seek reporter Jerome Weeks Tuesday night, some would see the Pavilion competing with Kahn’s Kimbell.

“It’s still about respecting what’s already there," Piano told Weeks. "But telling a story, making clear what you can do, it’s a challenge but it’s not competing. Competing with a masterpiece is stupid. And it’s also wrong. I love that building from Kahn, since the beginning, since it was built.”

Piano says his building tells a story of openness, transparency, with more glass to see out and in -- and natural light, to display more of the Kimbell’s permanent collection. There's also space: The 100,000-square foot building provides much-needed space for the Kimbell. There’s an auditorium to entertain, rooms for classes and meetings.

And then there are the walls.

“The famous concrete wall," Piano said. "Hanging Caravagio on the concrete wall for me is a great pleasure, because the concrete wall gives a sense of strength to the quality. It’s a silky concrete and it’s something almost sexy when you touch.”

Piano said his Pavilion is an extrovert, to Kahn’s introverted Kimbell.  

Eric Lee, the Kimbell Museum director, likes that analogy.

“I think that notion of introverted vs. extroverted is absolutely correct," Lee said. "When you’re in the Piano building  you have so many views that look outward to the Kahn building or across the street to Will Rogers. When you’re in the Kahn building the views are all inward looking, you’re looking at interior courtyards.”

Now, Lee says, the public will have both, with more of the Kimbell’s art displayed in a better choice of spaces, thanks to both buildings. 

On Wednesday, Piano is in Dallas to visit another of his creations – the Nasher Sculpture Center, which is in the middle of a battle with the neighboring Museum Tower. Nasher officials say that glare from the Museum Tower is harming its garden and galleries. Piano told KERA that he’s confident that the problem will be solved.

A grand opening celebration for the Piano Pavilion is scheduled for Nov. 27. Previews for Kimbell members start Friday.

A glimpse into the Piano Pavilion

The Kimbell says that Piano’s colonnaded pavilion, surrounded by elms and red oaks, "stands as an expression of simplicity -- glass, concrete and wood." It's near the museum's home, designed by Louis Kahn in 1972.

There’s room for both the new building and the original building, Piano said.

Visitors will still be able to enjoy the lawn between the buildings – it’s a place for people to relax, have picnics or throw Frisbees.

From KERA's Art&Seek: An early look at the Piano Pavilion

Learn more about the Piano Pavilion

KERA’s Jerome Weeks takes a look inside the new Piano Pavilion at Art&Seek.

On Monday’s Think, Piano joined KERA’s Krys Boyd to talk about his Fort Worth creation. Listen to the podcast of the conversation that aired Monday.

Animation of Piano Pavilion

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.