Plans for Philadelphia’s Calder Gardens Revealed

The Calder Foundation has drawn back the veil on a sanctuary being built in Philadelphia to honor renowned sculptor Alexander Calder (1989–1976). Occupying a 1.8-acre patch of land on the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, home to several museums, the Calder Gardens will comprise an 18,000-square-foot shed-style building, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architects Herzog & de Meuron and will feature landscaping by Piet Oudolf, who is responsible for the natural and idyllic look of New York’s High Line, where long grasses and wildflowers preside.

The architects and the foundation have said that the gardens are meant to be a place of contemplation, rather than merely a repository of the artist’s work. The simple structure housing the galleries will be clad in a slightly reflective metal and will project only far enough above ground to welcome visitors, with the rest of the building expanding underground and featuring a double-height gallery as well as other spaces for the display of art. To enter the building, visitors will cross a field planted to recall a meadow; two other gardens below-grade will discreetly host sculptures by Calder. Though works displayed will mainly be on loan from museums and other collections, the rotation schedule is likely to be leisurely, in support of the organizers’ vision of the space as encouraging meditation.

The project was initially put forth as a full-scale museum more than twenty years ago but fizzled after nearly a decade in the works. The gardens, proposed in 2020 and expected to cost about $70 million, will be privately funded and are to be overseen by the nearby Barnes Foundation. Though Calder was not long a resident of Philadelphia, he was born there, and both his father and his grandfather contributed prominently placed major sculptures to the city. His grandfather Alexander Milne Calder is responsible for the statue of William Penn atop City Hall, and his father, Alexander Stirling Calder, designed Swann Memorial Fountain, which graces Logan Square.

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