Now On View: Frank Gehry’s Master Plan For The Philadelphia Museum Of Art Renovation And Expansion Unveiled In Making A Classic Modern, On View Through September 1

The Philadelphia Museum of Art reveals its dramatic plans for the future of the interior and exterior of the the Parthenon on the Parkway, tapping architect Frank Gehry and others to design and execute the ambitious Master Plan, which might look something like this rendered plan by landscape and urban design firm OLIN. (Image courtesy OLIN)

This summer, the Philadelphia Museum of Art pulls back the curtain on its grand plans for the future of one of our city’s cultural treasures.

Like Philadelphia’s own Parthenon, the Philadelphia Museum of Art sits majestically on a rise at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The vast collections of this temple of art make it the third-largest art museum in the country, and an absolute must-see on the city’s museum circuit.

Since opening to the public in 1928, the art museum has welcomed countless visitors, artists and exhibitions, evolving its collections and programming to accommodate 21st-century needs. However, few significant updates have been made to the structure itself.

Now, after nearly 90 years of use, the museum has revealed a comprehensive plan for the renovation, revitalization and expansion of the Parthenon on the Parkway, tapping celebrated architect Frank Gehry to design and now implement this ambitious multi-phase project.

Furthermore, the entire scope of the renewal and expansion plans are now on view through September 1 in the summer exhibition, Making a Classic Modern: Frank Gehry’s Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Read on for more on architect Frank Gehry’s plans for Making a Classic Modern.

The Master Plan

A great bastion of fine art, the historic Philadelphia Museum of Art is more than mere museum — it’s a civic landmark and a true architectural treasure.

Plans to renovate the venerated building have been under consideration for more than a decade, with an initial integrated Facilities Master Plan completed by architectural engineering firm Vitetta in 2004 and design development by Frank Gehry and his group dating back to 2006, when former Philadelphia Museum of Art director Anne d’Harnoncourt asked Gehry to head the project.

Gehry, renowned around the world for such expressive buildings as the Guggenheim Bilboa and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, has taken a very different approach with the Philadelphia Museum of Art project. The architect has said he is embracing the DNA of the building, and not making many obvious exterior changes.

Rather, his design aims to open the interior space and make the museum far more navigable to visitors and desirable for displays of fine art.

A cross-section view showing the changes to existing interior spaces and the new underground galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Rendering courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP)

For more on the Master Plan and Making a Classic Modern, see below.

Now, all phases of the Master Plan have been approved, and the coming years will see both major and minor enhancements to the interior and exterior of the museum as funding is secured, touching every portion of the grand building.

There are no fewer than 10 principal components of the Master Plan, from key updates of infrastructure to the addition of 124,000 square feet of public space.

For the exterior, few changes have been proposed to preserve the integrity of the building, keeping alternations to the facade and the iconic “Rocky steps” to a minimum.

The interior, however, will see such major improvements as the renovation and expansion of Lenfest Hall and the Great Stair Hall, the reopening of a public entrance on the north side of the museum leading through a gorgeous vaulted corridor, as well as the creation of a brand-new central space beneath the Great Stair Hall leading to 55,000 square feet of new gallery space to be carved out beneath the east terrace.

Part of the major interior renovation, the new underground Level C Galleries will be lit in part by a skylight in the East Terrace (Rendering courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP)

The comprehensive and ambitious Master Plan will, of course, be implemented in phases. A handful of key improvements — dubbed the Core Project — will be the next portion of the Master Plan to roll out.

There is no announced timeline for this next phase as of yet, but the museum hopes to complete the improvements within five years.

And that’s only the start.

No undertaking this significant could be accomplished in one fell swoop, and timeline estimations for the execution of the Master Plan in its entirety range from 10 to 15 years.

Once complete, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be prepared for the next 90 years…and beyond.

The heart of the museum will be opened up with the Forum, creating a clear sight line through the ground-floor and first-floor galleries that will greatly simplify wayfinding. (Rendering courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP)

The Exhibition

An in-depth look at celebrated architect Frank Gehry’s vision for the future of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Making a Classic Modern: Frank Gehry’s Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art showcases Gehry’s plans for transforming the interior of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Discover the great structure’s past, Gehry’s impressive project history and — primarily — the architect’s plans for the renovation of the museum throughout the next years.

The first section takes visitors through the history of the construction and development of the museum via archival photography and anecdotes. Then, guests can take in a primer on Gehry himself, with an overview of his projects for other cultural institutions around the world.

The bulk of the exhibition, though, reveals Gehry’s plans to embrace the existing space while enhancing how visitors will move through the Museum with large-scale models, architectural drawings, photos and more. An impressive array of models and images offers up a snapshot of what’s to come — and it’s awesome.

Finally, the exhibit displays a selection of key works from areas of the permanent collection that will benefit most from the expansion: American, Asian and modern and contemporary art.

The vaulted underground walkway, long closed to visitors, will become a space for art and events, with entrances at the north (Kelly Drive) and south (Schuylkill River) sides of the building. (Rendering courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP)

Special Programming & Events

A variety of special events are happening in conjunction with this exhibition throughout the summer, for members and the public alike.

First up, look for a Summer Lecture Series on the history of Philadelphia’s museums, from 1786 and the arrival of Charles Willson Peale to the arrival of the Barnes Foundation on the Parkway and the unveiling of Frank Gehry’s Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Admission to Making a Classic Modern is included in regular museum access. Museum admission includes tickets for two consecutive days to the main Museum building, Perelman Building, Rodin Museum, and Historic Houses Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove.

Making a Classic Modern: Frank Gehry’s Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art
When: On view through Monday, September 1
Where: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Cost: Included in museum admission; $20 adults, $18 seniors, $14 students and youth, free for members and children under 12
More info:

One of two primary public entrances, Lenfest Hall will see a major renovation as part of the museum's Master Plan. (Rendering courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP)
West Terrace Aerial View of the Museum’s West Terrace Rendering © Gehry Partners, LLP)



Leave a comment directly on the blog


  1. A great Philadlphia treasure. Please don’t spend enormous amounts of money to screw it up!

  2. I just saw the Frank Gehry exhibit today. I am relieved and impressed. There are minimal changes to the exterior. The interior will be a beautiful, functional and inviting space. I am as reluctant to accept change (especially to historic buildings) as anyone; however, the proposed change to the steps would be a terrific addition (yes, you, Rocky, and I will still be able to run triumphantly to the top and dance around to the amusement of Philly natives and museum staff) The view of the oval and parkway from the gallery would not only provide a beautiful view throughout the changing seasons, but would add a great sense of place. It would invite passers-by into the museum, and the light would brighten the new underground gallery. I don’t always agree with PMA’s choices, but this design is a winner.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *