The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is one of the more striking boulevards in the entire country, if we may offer up a rather Philly-centric perspective. It’s great, with all the trees and museums and such, evoking the Champs Elysees but lacking a giant arch. Yeah, we know it’s a challenge to navigate for cars and pedestrians alike. And it ain’t too great for folks on bikes, either. Thankfully, there is a push by the City to revamp the area, and those plans should move forward in the coming years.
Until that day comes, at least we have institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum, and the Franklin Institute lining the parkway, with the African American Museum in Philadelphia soon to join them in the Family Court Building. But mixed in with temporary permits for the upcoming Made in America festival, there is another new cultural offering that will enter the mix soon. Let’s zoom back a bit before diving in further.
You may remember back in February 2020, when plans were first announced to have starchitect Herzog & de Meuron design the new home for selected works of famed Philadelphia sculptor, Alexander Calder. The Calder Foundation initially stated things would get started shortly, but plans had been put on hold for a while, likely due to the pandemic. We had been tracking this project for a while and were thrilled by two new pieces of information we discovered just recently: first, a zoning permit was issued for the project, showing preliminary designs; second, the website was updated just this week, stating that the full designs will be released this fall, with construction starting shortly thereafter.
Expect this gallery/museum/sanctuary to be a long, low building, with a large, rounded roof at the main entrance, facing north toward the Parkway. Drawings show that there will also be multiple gardens as well, providing a calm, intimate venue to show off Calder’s works. The idea behind this building is to be welcoming and serve almost as a living room for discussion of the works instead of a stuffy, sterile museum. We have little information on the specifics of the look, but we imagine we’re in for something rather impressive given the Pritzker Prize credentials of the design team.
To be frank, we can’t wait to see this design. This addition to the Parkway will activate what is currently a wildly underutilized space on the 2100 block. Some trees will have to be removed ahead of construction, but there appears to be a hearty number of new plants and trees that will eventually be planted. And in an extremely cool nod to Calder, this new gallery will literally align with works by both Calder’s father (Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Square) and grandfather (The William Penn statue on top of City Hall). Creating yet another world-class cultural institution – and a Philly-focused one to boot – is a darn good kickstart to safer, revitalized Parkway. Let’s hope that they keep finding more room for art, people, and nature, and maybe a bit less room for cars as the reinvention moves forward.