Herzog & de Meuron collaborates with Piet Oudolf to design Calder Gardens in Philadelphia

Herzog & de Meuron collaborates with Piet Oudolf to design Calder Gardens in Philadelphia

Herzog & de Meuron and landscape architect Piet Oudolf are collaborating to create Calder Gardens, which will house and exhibit works by American sculptor Alexander Calder. Located between Vine Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, the 6,500 square meter site will house a two-story building, half of which is developed underground. Instead of developing the site as a typical museum, the team decided to turn it into a garden as an attractive alternative for Philadelphia residents.

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Form, color and movement are the most obvious of the many remarkable aspects of Calder’s art. So we wanted to avoid rather than embrace the use of these as possible design elements when we start designing an architecture for the presentation of his work. – Jacques Herzog

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Calder Gardens, open plan gallery. Image © Herzog & de Meuron All works by Alexander Calder © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The design process began with a dialogue with the client, who requested a new type of place to experience art, “an interaction between art, architecture and people”. This led designers to choose to dig into the ground rather than building volumes above it. Gradually, the space transformed into a sequence of different galleries. The route leads the visitor through spaces, niches and unexpected gardens, such as quasi-galleries or open-air galleries, gardens below or vestige. Besides typical art exhibition spaces, the design team understood every corner, stairway and hallway as an opportunity to place art and create a different experience.


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The Calder Garden is the first site entirely dedicated to Alexander Calder, a Philadelphia-born artist whose moving sculptures, called “mobiles” by Marcel Duchamp, made him one of the best-known artists of the 20th century. According to The New York Times, the garden initiative began when Alexander SC Rower, Calder’s grandson and president of the Calder Foundation, met Piet Oudolf, the landscape designer famous for his work on New York’s High Line. The site was never intended to become a museum for Calder, but rather a space for wandering and introspection.

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Calder Gardens, Sunken Garden. Image © Herzog & de Meuron All works by Alexander Calder © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

I see my gardens as living sculptures where change is constant. The site is like a canvas to work on and each plant has a personality that needs to work with the others. The composition of the garden is variable and will change with the seasons. For Calder Gardens, horticultural design must also serve works of art. I hope people take the time to stop and reflect here, fully experience these elements together, and have an emotional reaction that will stay with them long after their visit. It’s not what you see, but what you feel. –Piet Oudolf

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Calder Gardens, Promenade Garden. Image © Herzog & de Meuron
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Calder Gardens, Highway and Tall Gallery. Image © Herzog & de Meuron All works by Alexander Calder © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The project is expected to start in 2023 and open in early 2024.

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