As the sunshine on a recent morning at the museum highlighted Piano's accomplishments, curators led clutches of reporters through the 177,000-square-foot addition. Even the elevator walls, lined with a fabric of metal that resembled thousands of staples, were carefully designed to reflect Piano's subtly functional philosophy. Piano, the Italian architect tapped by High Museum officials to more than double the size of the Atlanta museum, hasn't created an iconic work of art. What he has done is work in concert with the existing Richard Meier building to compose a Southern take on the European piazza.
Elms and low-slung rectangular water features punctuate the Sifly Piazza, while tables and chairs make for an inviting public space, perfect for a midday sandwich or an evening glass of wine.
Piano has a hefty list of credits in his decades-long career. He's responsible for the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Kansai International Airport Terminal in Osaka, Japan, the New York Times building in New York, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, and the Menil Collection Museum in Houston, among dozens of global commissions.
The latter two buildings, in conjunction with the High addition, provide an insight into how Piano operates. All three of them draw heavily on natural light, a commodity in abundance in Texas and Georgia, to support and illuminate their singular collections, according to Macon Telegraph.
The lobby of Susan and John Wieland Pavilion, which connects to the Meier building via covered bridges, has lofty coffered ceilings and features two new works. It sets off the commissioned "Blue Green Red" by Ellsworth Kelly and an outdoor sculpture, "Balzac PЋtanque," by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, visible through large glass walls.
The lobby is intended to serve as the new entrance for the museum, meaning that foot traffic will now pass through the new piazza rather than the Meier building. Across the way is the Administrative Center with its new restaurant, Table 1280 Restaurant and Tapas Lounge, and at the top of rectangle is the Anne Cox Chambers Wing, which houses special collections.
There is an underlying classicism to Piano's design. The "golden rectangle," said to be discovered by Pythagoras, is frequent in ancient Greek architecture. And Piano's sense of classical proportion is evident in the design of the piazza and its buildings.
Michael Shapiro, director of the museum, said the new addition will enable the museum to show a large portion of its collection for the first time. About 450,000 visitors come to the High each year, and with the added space, he said, it can better serve the surrounding population.
Piano's addition certainly makes the museum more accessible. The piazza is the most obvious, with its inviting points of entry. A children's play nook - the Greene Family Learning Gallery - contains miniature puppet versions of works in the museum collection and building blocks for budding architects to recreate Meier's and Piano's designs.
The bottom floor of the Wieland building has glass walls at street level, and Yount said the museum plans to light the exhibitions to be visible at night. A.M.