The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston has opened its new wing, designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The extension, lined with windows and panels of pre-patinated copper (unfortunately so uniform that they seem to be painted) connects smoothly with the existing building.
The new wing is made up of four distinct volumes, connected to one another by glazed passageways, greenhouses and vertically by a three ramp staircase of almost Renaissance taste and proportions. Inside, the exhibition areas open into a great cube-shaped room with 10 m sides, which provides a significant expansion to the museum's exhibition capacity and above all into a vertical concert hall with the audience seated around the balconies like in a modern Shakespearian theatre.
The area available to its rich collection has been more than doubled with the new 6500 square metre wing. The immediate positive effect of this is that the original spaces in the museum, an early 20th century building, the palace of the Bostonian Lady Isabella Stewart Gardner who had accumulated her wide-ranging but important collection there, could be freed.
To our European eyes, this building, an eclectic mixture of Gothic and Reconnaissance taste, may appear to be little more than a curious manifestation of the American Bourgeoisie before the Great Depression. However, for the people of Boston, it represents an legendary icon and is it was of no surprise that Piano's project had to overcome many obstacles before being completed.
In a country which is traditionally open to change or which can sacrifice an icon of its past to replace it with something new without blinking an eyelid, it may be surprising that there was so much resistance to sacrificing the garden house and other minor elements of the garden. Maybe Americans are beginning to understand the importance of preserving not only the form but also the details and the context of their heritage... Or maybe they are becoming more nostalgic.