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News > Committee News > "The Barnes Foundation" (ASIAN ARCHITECTS / DESIGNERS / ARTISTS OF PHILLY)


This story is part of a series featuring Asian Architects / Designers / Artists of Philly
18 Jul 2022
Written by Sophia Lee
Committee News
The Barnes Foundation, Williams Tsien website
The Barnes Foundation, Williams Tsien website


Urban Design

This story is part of a series featuring Asian Architects / Designers / Artists of Philly. We will be highlighting incredible murals that are a part of Mural Arts Philadelphia, urban street art that is part of Philadelphia Museum of Art's collection or other collections, urban spaces that embody Asian culture, and buildings designed by some of the most renowned architects from around the world. We will be featuring short blog posts written by members of Urban Design Committee, as well as guest posts by Committee on the Environment, Environmental Justice subcommittee. Stay tuned for more!

Blog Post written by Erin Roark.

 The Barnes Foundation, created in 1922 in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania was relocated to downtown Philadelphia in 2012 to a complex designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (TWBTA).

 From 1922-1951, the original site provided a diverse educational experience supported by a one-of-a-kind art collection curated by Dr Albert Barnes. The collection spanned over three decades and included some of the most important works of the artists Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. The foundation decided to move the foundation “to better serve Dr. Barnes's educational mission…where its vastly expanded program reaches 12,000 Philadelphia school children every year.”

 The Barnes Foundation cites the generous contribution of this artwork to the public “ teach people from all walks of life how to look at art. Over three decades, (Dr. Barnes) collected some of the world's most important impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern paintings…. He displayed them alongside African masks, native American jewelry, Greek antiquities, and decorative metalwork. Dr. Barnes was a strong supporter of progressive education and social justice, and he worked closely with Black communities in the belief that people—like art—should not be segregated.”

The new 93,000 SF complex conceived by Williams and Tsien as “a gallery in a garden and a garden in a gallery”, includes a 12,000 SF replica exhibition space in scale, configuration and tone to the original as left by Dr Barnes in 1951, as well as expanded space for art education, conservation, and temporary exhibits.

The structure is clad in fossilized limestone and topped with a luminous light box:

“A monumental light box, running the length of the building and cantilevering over a terrace, casts daylight into the serene court space below. The court and terrace serve as a place for visitors to gather for tours, a place for repose, or an event space in the evenings. At night, the ethereal light box is transformed into an iconic beacon for the new Barnes Foundation.” (

At grade the complex is nestled into a public garden and pool designed with landscape architects OLIN Studio.

Interim thoughts on Perception by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien:

“So there is no quick take on our work; no singular powerful image that is able to sum it all up. We are not sure how to present our work. We know that the answer is not a computer-generated “fly-through,” or even a video of the real thing. The pacing and the viewpoint of these methods are still too consistent. They are cold, machine-like lenses that follow a too-logical sequence of movement. A human eye scans panoramically, and then suddenly focuses down on a tiny point. You see the ocean, and then you see a grain of oddly colored sand. The boundaries of what one chooses to perceive are constantly expanding and contracting. And of course there are the myriad of stray thoughts, memories, and images that are called up by what you see in the color and shade of an actual space. There are the distractions (and perhaps one can also see them as positive additions) of sound, smell, shifting light, and the conversations of passers-by. This can only happen when you are there.”


LEED Platinum


2013 AIA Institute Honor Award for Architecture

2013 Building Stone Institute Tucker Award

2012 Apollo Award for Museum Opening of the Year


Read more about the Barnes Foundation:

Read more about Tod Williams Billie Tsien's work at the Barnes:

Read more about OLIN's work at the Barnes:

Read more about Billie Tsien and Tod Williams:

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