Gehry Partners is helming a major multi-year renovation of the museum, which includes a new restaurant and cafe in the Neo-Classical building’s lower levels.
A milestone was reached last month with the opening of Stir, a fine dining restaurant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is undergoing an almost $200 million transformation of its 1928 Neo-Classical building led by Frank Gehry and his Los Angeles-based firm, Gehry Partners.
Stir and its adjacent cafeteria, Café, are the first new public facilities to be completed in the museum’s “core project,” which will open by 2020 and introduce 90,000 square feet of newly-accessible areas to visitors, including 23,000 square feet of new gallery space. These new spaces (all located underground or within the building’s existing shell) will be followed by other renovations—including new daylit galleries under the museum’s East Terrace and a new auditorium, additions that will be completed in later phases—at a cost that has not yet been determined.
Specializing in seasonal, locally-sourced cuisine, Stir is Gehry’s first restaurant open to the public on the East Coast. He has been designing restaurants since the 1980s, including a new beachfront dining complex on the Pacific Coast Highway, still in the planning stages, that will be operated by Los Angeles chef Wolfgang Puck.
Stir is an intriguing combination of the old and the new, reflecting Gehry’s abiding respect for the museum’s original Horace Trumbauer–designed building, located at one end of Philadelphia’s famous Benjamin Franklin Parkway, itself inspired by Paris’ Champs Elysees.
Gehry has retained the original Tiffany & Co. metalwork on the exterior of Stir’s windows, which are six-foot, ten-inches tall and will allow diners to look out to West Philadelphia when the core project is complete. Gehry also uses Kasota stone—the same Minnesota dolomitic limestone employed throughout the original museum building—on flooring that runs down the center of the wing that houses Stir and Café.
Douglas fir—a wood favored by Gehry in many of his most famous commissions, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain—clads much of the interior of the 1,600-square-foot, 76-seat Stir. While the walls are Douglas fir veneer, the wood is also used as beams in a striking, curved, latticework sculptural element that hangs from Stir’s ceiling. Meaghan Lloyd, chief of staff and a partner at Gehry Partners, called the shapes of the sculpture—woven into a form that resembles an inverted basket, or a bird’s nest, as some at the museum fondly describe it—“a nod” to the museum’s vaulted walkway and curved gallery ceilings that will eventually be built.
Gehry, she added, loves using Douglas fir because “it is a warm wood that, as it ages, gets warmer and warmer. It makes you feel like you’re being embraced by the room.”
Stir’s outer wall, adjacent to the central corridor of the wing where it is located, is lined with two types of glass, frosted for the bottom two-thirds, clear for the top third, the former providing privacy for diners, the latter offering passersby a glimpse of the ceiling sculpture.
The warm, natural, contemporary atmosphere sought by Gehry here is further evident in the restaurant’s Red oak flooring, teak-veneered serving stations, and burgundy leather, used in booths for diners (a Gehry Partners design made by Beachley Furniture) and in the Pasqualina armchairs from Studio Grassi & Bianchi. Also part of the restaurant’s natural, subtle palette: cream-colored acoustical tile positioned above the Douglas fir wall panels and on the ceiling.
Similarly, beige, red-veined Quartzite is used for Stir’s dining tabletops (a Gehry Partners design made by Prismatique) and the countertop of the low, Douglas fir-covered wall right inside the restaurant’s entrance. This wall divides Stir’s main seating area from its stainless steel-clad open kitchen, a feature Lloyd believes adds to the intimacy of the restaurant, providing diners “a view on the excitement of the kitchen.”
“The museum has such a great mission, serving a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds, so we definitely wanted to make Stir friendly and accessible. It’s a very simple palette—we tried to let the light and the material here do the work. We wanted it to be comfortable, comforting, refined and also warm and friendly,” Lloyd added.