Kimbell Art Museum

The Kimbell Art Museum's new Piano Pavilion built across from the Louis Kahn building, preserved the majority of the 5-acre lawn by keeping two-thirds of the building underground.

Courtesy of the Kimbell Art Museum.

April 23, 2014

By Barbara Koerble

Back when the Kimbell Art Museum first announced they were putting an additional building on their spacious west lawn, many Fort Worth residents said, “No, thanks. We want to keep our green space.”

The five-acre lawn adjacent to the famous museum designed by Louis I. Kahn had become a favorite spot for dog walkers and frisbee enthusiasts.

The building plans went forward. But architect Renzo Piano and his staff listened to park lovers. So last fall, when the Piano Pavilion opened, it sported a hilly green roof clearly designed to be enjoyed by the public, who can be seen clambering to the top on recent sunny days.

It turns out, the designers preserved all but one acre of the original lawn because two-thirds of the new facility is earth-sheltered or completely buried underground – including a parking garage for 135 cars. 

"It was our desire to keep the front gallery and lobby portion of the building to a minimum footprint – it was conceived of as a pavilion in a park. The rest of the program tried to get as much tucked underground as possible, so we managed to preserve a lot of green space,” said Daniel Hammerman, architect for RPBW.

Due to on-site construction, two rows of cedar elm trees were removed, along with a grove of yaupon holly trees at the graveled west entrance to Kahn’s building. Not surprisingly, there was significant public concern expressed over the trees’ removal. 

"Programmatically, those trees needed to come back – the way they shape the site, focus the procession and tie the site to the Will Rogers Center," said Hammerman.  

Piano PavilionAs a result, 47 30-foot elm trees and a grove with 52 mature yaupon holly trees were replanted to recreate the familiar landscaping. In addition, 221 other trees were planted elsewhere on the lawn, in the median of Lancaster Boulevard and in the museum’s off-site parking area.  

Above, looking east to the Kahn building from the Piano Pavilion. Courtesy of the Kimbell Art Museum.

Piano’s 101,130-square-foot venue includes many other green features:

• The 19,200-square-foot green roof structure is more than just grass – it is composed of concrete covered with insulating layers of foam, engineered soil and sod, so it conserves energy.

• Thirty-six geothermal wells were installed 460 feet below ground. Water is piped underground, where temperatures tend to be constant, either cooler or warmer than the surface temperature, depending on the season, and recirculated. This reduces demand on heating and cooling systems.  

• The building’s efficient air displacement supply system uses less energy to condition air on the ground floor, with low-velocity air distributed through spaces between the “breathable” floor slats in the galleries. 

• The thick laminated glass roof over the galleries and lobby is shaded by moveable louvers that are positioned seasonally to deflect and control the amount of light entering the skylights. 

Roof detail.

• Photovoltaic cells embedded on the surface of the louvers collect the energy of the sun and generate enough power to light the building at night.  

• A semi-transparent scrim positioned underneath the glass skylight further diffuses daylight entering the galleries, and creates layering and stratification of warmer air to keep the galleries below cool. 

• The overhang of the roof and sensor-controlled interior and exterior roller window shades shield the interior from direct sunlight.  

• Low-energy LED lighting is installed throughout the interior.  

• In contrast to the sophisticated roof design, the stormwater management on the site is simple and low tech – screened gutters in the roof channel rainwater directly to stormwater drains. However, the earth-sheltered building design with its green roof and underground parking garage greatly reduced the typical amount of impervious surfaces that would increase stormwater runoff. In addition, depressions on the lawn called swales direct rainwater into drains leading to the city’s stormwater system. 

In spite of all the pavilion’s energy-saving features, the Kimbell Art Foundation chose to not pursue LEED certification for the Piano Pavilion, according to a source with the owner’s project management team, because the funding required to pursue certification was better invested in the overall performance of the building.   

While it will take months of actual operation before the true energy performance of the new building can be calculated, RPBW’s design for the new Piano Pavilion takes sustainability seriously.  

 “We generally approach buildings with the desire to make them as sustainable as possible – it’s the responsible thing to do,” said Hammerman.

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