Renzo Piano’s proposed addition to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, planned for completion in 2011. (Photo: Renzo Piano Building Workshop)

More than a few eyebrows will likely be raised on Thursday when the Italian architect Renzo Piano unveils his design for the expansion of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum here.

The cultural watchdogs of Boston don’t take well to change. And the museum, whose collections haven’t moved since 1924, is one of the most beloved art institutions in this city. Its eclectic array of artworks from the Middle Ages to the early-20th century, displayed in a dazzling faux-Venetian palazzo, stands alongside those in the Frick Collection in Manhattan and the Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif., as a rare — and intimate — expression of a single collector’s vision.

Well, the preservationists should put away their torches and pitchforks. Mr. Piano’s design, dominated by a four-story copper-clad volume that encloses a 300-seat music hall and a temporary-exhibitions gallery, keeps a respectful distance from the Venetian dowager. And the new building’s strong geometric forms should make a welcome counterpoint to the old one, which, from the outside at least, has always seemed a bit bland.


Nicolai Ouroussoff
New York Times