Building of the Week: Philip Johnson’s Kreeger Museum
As we're getting ready for the Building of the Week Tours throughout Architecture Month, we're excited to learn a little more about the buildings we'll be visiting. Today we're getting an inside look into the Kreeger Museum, the first Building of the Week Tour that will take place April 7, 2017.
Through a conversation with David Hawkins, Head of Education and Eloise Pelton, Archivist at The Kreeger Museum, we were able to learn some cool things about the architecture and history of the building!
Is there a specific part of the building that turned out really differently from the original plan?
DH – The original plans for the building did not include the Atrium, the Sculpture Terrace, and the Salon – all were added at the insistence of Carmen Kreeger. The atrium because she wanted to reference her tropical homeland (Costa Rica); the Sculpture Terrace because they already had heavy sculpture absolutely integral to their collection; and the Salon because she needed a more intimate space in which to entertain friends.
What is the most loved favorite part of the space?
EP – If put to a vote, it would be unanimous – the Great Hall is awesome for all who experience it. Its space continues to provide a grand but ethereal environment for both art and music – as was the original intent.
DH – Folks tend to gravitate towards the Great Hall, and rightly so; the soaring ceiling and rhythmic space illicit a unique emotional response. A close runner up is the Sculpture Terrace, especially on Spring and Fall nights, when the trees and darkened sky provide a back drop to the travertine clad columns.
Is there something that you were not able to incorporate that you had wanted to originally?
EP – Philip Johnson expected that the building would be furnished with antique furniture (Louis XV and XVI) and, if not that, then Mies modern style. Both were rejected by the Kreegers – the antiques due to exorbitant cost and the Mies because their decorator Samuel Morrow (originally chosen by Johnson) thought it would then look too much like an airport. They opted for new “antique style” furniture, e.g. Louis XV and Sheraton.
Can you discuss the relationship between the of the context of the site and the design of the Kreeger? What was in the area when the building was built?
DH – The Museum is set on 7.5 acre wooded plot on Foxhall Road, one of the wealthy residential neighborhoods of Washington DC. When the building was completed in 1967, other residents of the neighborhood included the homes of the Cafritz Family (Now The Field School) and the Rockefellers (now the site of the Spanish Embassy.)
EP – The home which was on the site when the Kreegers purchased it was a large English Tudor style, built in the 1920s and belonging to a niece of Teddy Roosevelt. Philip Johnson’s modern design was unique to the neighborhood.
Is there something about the Kreeger that most people don’t know?
DH – Yes! The Kreeger Museum is full of surprises and mysteries! There was over 900 tons of hand-selected travertine (young limestone) used in the construction and finishing of The Kreeger Museum building. Richard Foster, Philip Johnson’s partner, went to Italy twice to hand select the stone, and labeled each piece to ensure correct placement. By way of comparison, the average American-made automobile is approximately 2 tons… meaning there is the equivalent of 450 cars worth of stone used in this building!
EP – It is surprising to many when they are told that all of the built spaces – both inside and out – are based on units of 22 x 22 x 22 feet. Usually without knowing that it was the architect’s intention, they feel an unusual calm in moving from one space into another. Those particular dimensional units and the attention of the architect to progression through them is the “secret” to the pleasure of experiencing this particular building.