FORT WORTH -- As museum workers and curators install last-minute touches for "The Age of Impressionism" exhibit opening Sunday, Kimbell Art Museum Director Eric M. Lee has one eye turned to the installation occurring outside.
The Renzo Piano-designed expansion of the Kimbell, finally beginning to take shape as a museum with floors and walls, is no less a work of art than the Renoirs and Monets hanging in the galleries of the original Louis Kahn building.
Given that the museum is spending $125 million on the expansion, across from what is widely acknowledged as an architectural masterpiece, it will surely have a more-lasting impact than a traveling exhibit, blockbuster or not.
"The first time I stood on the new lobby floor, it was absolutely exhilarating," Lee said.
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"We're so used to looking at plans and viewing everything through the model, we forgot that the new building will have one of the most beautiful views in the country -- of the Kahn building. I cannot wait to see this building continue to rise over the next year and a half."
Construction started in October 2010. The new building will be the latest addition to the Cultural District, which has seen more than $300 million in renovations and new buildings in the last 11 years.
Not wanting to disrupt the tranquil beauty of the Kahn building, Kimbell leaders chose to expand by building a separate museum to the west, with the front entrances facing each other across a tree-lined lawn.
The new building, roughly 90,000 square feet, will allow the Kimbell to display traveling exhibitions and still show its permanent collection in the original building.
The new concrete-and-glass flat-roofed building will also have an auditorium, education center, library and underground parking garage.
It will use glass panels and fabric scrims to provide roughly half the lighting inside, similar to Kahn's use of natural light in the Kimbell.
Piano, an acclaimed Italian architect who has designed buildings in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and Houston, worked for Kahn early in his career. He has paid close attention to the progress of the construction, fully aware that he has designed a companion to one of the greatest structures of the 20th century.
"Renzo has been extremely respectful of the Kahn building," Lee said. "He has walked that fine line of being deferential and at the same time creating a strong piece of his own architecture."
The Beck Group and its subcontractors have largely finished the work on the basement and parking garage and have begun building the galleries' concrete walls.
The museum intends to open the building in fall 2013, a bit later than first hoped.
But Lee said the concrete selected by Piano looks "silky" and requires an exacting attention to detail.
"This is a high-tech building," he said. "This building is far more complicated than it seems, if you just look at the drawings. It is extremely complex in terms of how it is put together and the materials used. It has a deceptive simplicity."
Chris Vaughn, 817-390-7547