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A Reason To Go To Harvard? Renzo Piano’s New Art Museum

The architect’s expansion of the Harvard Art Museums melds ’20s Georgian Revival architecture with a 21st-century aesthetic.

In the neoclassical-contemporary mashup that is the new home of the Harvard Art Museums designed by Renzo Piano, grand Palladian columns are topped by modern, transparent sheet windows that allow a sneak peek into the galleries from the central atrium. The buttoned-up brickwork of the Ivy League is spliced with a cedar-clad exterior that forms a major expansion and new entrance to the facility. Atop this new hybrid sits a spectacular transparent pyramid of glass, a modern skylight for a historic venue.

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After a six-year building process, Harvard’s art museums have reopened in a new, expanded facility that’s well worth a visit on any Boston tour. The renovation consolidates the university’s three institutions–the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum–into one home, the newly restored and upgraded 1920s Fogg Museum building designed by . With the remodel comes 200,000 square feet of new space for the museums’ 250,000-object collection.

The Pritzker-Prize-winning Piano is a go-to architect for museum work, with completed projects and expansions all over the world–in Oslo, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Chicago, and more. (His design for the Whitney Museum in New York opens in spring 2015.) At the Harvard Art Museums, his expertise shines.

Nic Lehoux

The museum fuses old and new, combining the historic Georgian-revival architecture of the original Fogg Museum facility with an upgraded transparent, glazed rooftop to allow natural light to filter throughout the building into the galleries, study centers, and courtyard below.

The overall effect: an inviting space for the general public. A new extension and entrance opens up the museum to the neighborhood around the university, rather than sequestering the museum within Harvard’s campus, and the glazed facade work on the first floor allows street views into the exhibition space and winter garden.

The Harvard Art Museums are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On view now are Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals, German artist Rebecca Horn’s “Work in Progress,” and a special collection of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern bronze artifacts. Admission is $15 for adults.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.

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