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Major Museum Renovation Combines Dramatic Design with Much-Needed Infrastructure Improvements

The Philadelphia Museum of Art broke ground on a major renovation in 2017. World-renowned international architect Frank Gehry designed the multi-million-dollar renovation, which is focused on opening up the museum’s interior with more public spaces, more room for art, and easier navigation. Critical to the success of the signature dramatic elements was the design of bronze replica replacement windows and a series of custom curved vestibules that showcase new museum spaces.

Photo: Steve Hall, © Hall + Merrick

Major Museum Renovation Opens Up Museum’s Interior

The museum’s Facilities Master Plan includes reopening of architecturally significant spaces that have been out of the public eye for many decades. The first stage, known as the Core Project, is budgeted at about $196 million, and is scheduled for completion in 2020. Major elements were completed in November 2019, including opening of the North Entrance – a street-level side entrance that was used when the museum opened in 1928 but had been closed off for 40 years. Also completed was a section of the museum’s famous Vaulted Walkway with an arched ceiling clad in newly restored Guastavino tiles, as well as a new café and retail space.

Detailed Window Design Process

Larry White, of California-based Architectural Window Design, was working with Gehry Partners and knew that the design of the windows was crucial to meeting the architect’s vision for the spaces in the Core Project. The existing bronze windows were single glazed, not energy efficient, and were experiencing serious condensation issues. 

White suggested bringing in Hope’s Windows, which provides 100 percent customized work for each project and is known for its specialized abilities to meet architects’ aesthetic vision for window profiles. “I have had experience with Hope’s on a number of projects and I knew they could produce a replica window that combined show-stopping design with enhanced energy efficiency and condensation resistance.”

Hope’s Windows project manager Jim Gruber explains that the detailed window design process began when the architect shipped one of the existing original windows to Hope’s factory in Jamestown, NY. “Our research and development team went through with a micrometer gauge dimensioning of window profiles to get an exact replica,” explains Gruber. The Hopes team designed and engineered the custom-extruded window profiles and produced specific bronze extrusions for the design team. “We added our thermal evolution technology to the window frame, enhancing it with a thermal break.” A vendor sourced the 65 windows for the building’s lower level. 

Custom Bronze Curved Vestibules Offer Challenges

In addition to the windows, Hopes produced five custom bronze curved vestibules. Three are being installed at the main entrance (West elevation) and one on the South elevation at an entrance primarily used by employees. The largest vestibule is for the North Entrance – here an existing truck entrance with wooden doors is being converted into a foot traffic area with two pairs of doors and a large shaped transom to make new park space. 

The new North vestibule features a completely unique design. There is a normal pair of doors in a plane with the exterior wall and vestibule 6 feet beyond. The doors protrude out 6 to 8 feet from the building with a glass roof overhead while incorporating the existing wood doors and transom into the design. Geary’s aesthetic goal was to enhance the new entrance for new spaces being introduced to the museum.  

Hope’s Windows had to meet several challenges with the North Entrance vestibule, explains Gruber. “The North vestibule is the most complex and is a true showpiece. Both pairs of doors are curved on plan. The hardware has to access the radius of the unit. The curved doors are swinging, and as they move, they still have to function.” Hopes provided custom hardware, specially engineered and manufactured so all components parts and pieces function as designed. 

Gruber details the challenges: “On top there is a curved skylight that is pitched. There are also sidelights with custom drains. Gutters guide water off a slope and into inside corner tubes, so water drains out the back side behind the wing windows. This means water drainage will not interfere with the walkway.” 

He acknowledged that making the interconnections work can be a challenge. “You are limited to bronze because there is no galvanic action and all the components must work in conjunction with one another. Also, the doors are automated – There is a recess box with an automatic open feature for handicapped access that was worked in with the curved-on plan.”

Hope’s came up with design solutions for all the challenges they encountered. They then produced a partial mockup of the complex North vestibule at the Hope’s factory to test whether it would meet expectations. The partial model was installed, glazed, and sealed on a mocked up concrete pad. Hope’s placed the vestibule on the pad and met at the site of the mockup to demonstrate operations to the architect’s team. After a design review meeting, Hope’s revised shop drawings, produced a model, developed final shop drawings for approval, and then performed fabrication. 

Bill Childers, senior associate at Gehry Partners, discussed the successful process, saying “This was an extremely challenging project and Hope’s Windows came through with flying colors, fabricating a stunning vestibule that met our vision perfectly.”

The Hope’s team continued to work hand in hand with the architect, contractors, and other trades during construction. For example, the stainless-steel grill on the floors is heated, so Hope’s had to work with the concrete contractor to ensure the pitch for floor closures is in the right location. The electrical conduit runs through the frames and the team had to coordinate wiring issues. They also had to produce physical templates for use by electrical, concrete, and other trades. 

Hard Work Pays Off

The stunning custom curved vestibules have been a major success in highlighting new and renovated museum spaces. All agree that the hard work done during the design phase paid off. The detailed planning, including mockups and reviews of the vestibule design and operations, resulted in a stunning feature that the client is extremely proud of. During installation of the North vestibule, the Museum’s Director of Operations said, “The vestibule is beyond my expectations.”

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