Monday, January 18, 2010

The New York Librarians Meetup Group at the Morgan Library

A Visit to The Morgan–Renzo Piano Building Workshop Project Exhibition on Sunday January 10, 2010

The Morgan expansion project is a special exhibition that presents a historical survey of the site from the 1850s through today. The exhibition is organized by The Morgan Library & Museum and the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. It features materials such as drawings, models, and photographs from the conceptual design phase to the finished scheme.

The history of the building is not a static one, structures were put up, added to, altered, demolished—whatever their owners deemed necessary or desirable. Part one of the exhibition traces the development of the Morgan's current property from its beginning in the 1850s. Part two examines how Renzo Piano realized the Morgan's institutional goals then rationalized and developed a plan for the complex he first encountered in 2000. The final section examines aspects of design development and provides images of finished work that link architectural drawings to completed construction.

Brief History
Near the turn of the 19th century, Pierpont Morgan
(1837-1913), one of the great American financiers began to amass a collection of art objects, which rivaled the holdings of Europe’s most celebrated libraries. Within the next ten years, Morgan’s collections grew quite large and needed a building of their own where they could be housed and put on display. Completed in 1906 by the architect Charles McKim, Morgan’s original library was done as a “Renaissance-style palazzo of formal elegance and understated grandeur.” McKim even directed the builders in an ancient construction method using Tennessee pink marble that was laid with virtually no mortar— a technique which contributed to the library’s extraordinary refinement.

In late 1906 Pierpont Morgan began using his new library, which contemporaries described as a “bookman’s paradise” and “icily exquisite”. Two decades later the New York Herald Tribune called it “…perfect, inside and out, a Renaissance gem set in the heart of prosaic New York.” In 1924 J.P. Morgan Jr., also known as Jack, transformed the library into a public institution as a memorial to his father. As the collections grew, he also added an annex (which opened in 1928) adjacent to the original building to serve the as both a library and museum. In 1988 the original Morgan house erected on the east side of Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th streets in the mid-nineteenth century was renovated by the firm Voorsanger and Associates. The firm designed a modern glass and steel atrium or Garden Court to the site of the former Morgan family garden.

Following the 1988 construction, offices were created on the house’s upper floors and the first floor period rooms were used as conference rooms and a shop. The fourth floor was later connected to the Thaw Conservation Center, designed by architect Samuel Anderson.

The Morgan–Renzo Piano Project

In 2000, the Morgan asked the Renzo Piano Building Workshop to develop an expansive enhancement scheme that would permit the institution to better fulfill its dual role as library and museum. Renzo Piano’s diverse achievements in architecture and successful integrations of modern design into a number of old European buildings led the Morgan to select him for their task of expansion. The Morgan–Renzo Piano Project’s principal elements included:

• a state of the art collection storage facility
• new and renovated galleries
• a modern performance hall
• a new reading room
• a new entrance
• a spacious central court (the heart of the public spaces)
• and more rational internal circulation

Work began on the Morgan–Renzo Piano Project in 2003 and was completed in 2006. The project was the largest expansion in the Morgan’s history and added 75,000 square feet to the campus. The project increased exhibition spaces by more than fifty percent and added important amenities, including a 280-seat performance hall, a welcoming entrance on Madison Avenue, a new cafĂ© and restaurant, and a shop. It is important to note that the majority of the construction took place underground—including the large areas of the vault and the Gilder Lehrman Hall.

My favorite architectural elements from Piano’s renovation of the Morgan are the roof structure and other “urban gestures”. Piano’s roof structure is a complex system of metal screens, shades, blinds and other light filtering devices that allow natural light in. Additionally, other “urban gestures” such as the glass interstices help set the various buildings off from one another and offer a friendly view from both inside and outside of the Morgan.


The Renzo Piano Building Workshop's project for the Morgan follows an exceptional architectural legacy. The original library which was designed by Charles McKim and opened for Pierpont Morgan's personal use a hundred years ago, is an American Renaissance icon. Of the numerous structures that once stood on the site now occupied by the Morgan, three remain: the Morgan house, the 1928 Annex, and McKim's masterpiece. Renzo Piano reckoned with these three landmarks as he brought practical and pleasing coherence to the present complex.

Works Cited:

About the Morgan | History of the Morgan. (2006). 2006: The Renzo Piano expansion and renovation. Retrieved January 18, 2010, from

The Morgan Library & Museum. (2006). The Morgan–Renzo Piano building workshop project with a brief history. In Exhibitions | current. Retrieved January 18, 2010, from

The Morgan Library & Museum. (n.d.). Welcome. [Pamphlet].

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Ardra, for the lovely coverage. I didn't have a chance to see everything in depth. Hopefully we will get to see the archives, too, one day!