A rendering of the lobby in Renzo Piano’s ethereal glass addition to Kimbell Art Museum, a Louis Kahn masterpiece of Modern architecture, in Fort Worth.

It’s fair to ask if Renzo Piano was fully sane when he agreed to design the addition to Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum.

Kahn occupies a privileged place within the pantheon of America’s great architects, and the Kimbell in Fort Worth, completed in 1972, is his masterpiece. Adding to the pressure, major museum expansions were increasingly coming under fire as wasteful expressions of gilded-age hubris. Mr. Piano is likely to be vilified by both architecture fans and art world purists no matter what he comes up with.

It’s true that Mr. Piano’s design, which will be officially unveiled on Thursday, is not as transcendent a work of architecture as the original Kimbell. Nor does it quite live up to his own masterpiece, the 1987 Menil Collection building in Houston. But Mr. Piano has managed to find that magical and elusive balance between respecting a great work and adhering to one’s own aesthetic convictions. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who might have sought to play up the generational divide, Mr. Piano, who worked for Kahn early in his career, builds his design on the touching, if idealistic, notion of a civilized conversation across the ages.


Nicolai Ouroussoff
New York Times