Press release date: 
Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Under the direction of the Board of Trustees of the Morgan Library, the Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano has developed a comprehensive plan to expand and better integrate the campus of the Morgan. The New York–based Beyer Blinder Belle, well known for its superb preservation work, is the local architectural firm for the project. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission hailed Piano's plan as a "brilliant design" and granted its unanimous and enthusiastic approval at its February 26, 2002, public hearing.

From October 2, 2002, through May 4, 2003, the Library will mount The Morgan Library–Renzo Piano Project. Organized by Brian Regan, Deputy Director, the Morgan Library, this installation consists of models and plans of the elegant design, which preserves the historic buildings and creates three modestly scaled pavilions. The Morgan Library–Renzo Piano Project is made possible by a grant from the David L. Klein, Jr. Foundation.

Considered one of New York City's great treasures, the Morgan was founded by Pierpont Morgan in 1906 and made a public institution in 1924, serving as a scholarly research library as well as a full-service museum. "With the steady growth of both our holdings and our public offerings has come greater demands on our facilities," commented Charles E. Pierce, Jr., Director of the Morgan Library. "Over the last several years, we have been engaged in a thorough planning process to identify critical institutional needs. At the same time, we were intensely aware of the historical and architectural significance of the buildings that are at the core of the Morgan, including the 1906 American Renaissance building by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead & White, the 1928 Annex, which was designed by Benjamin Wistar Morris and now serves as the Morgan's main entrance, and the nineteenth-century townhouse now known as the Morgan House. Individually and together, they hold an important place in New York City's heritage."

Dr. Pierce continued, "We believe that Renzo Piano's plan accomplishes our programmatic and aesthetic goals brilliantly, and does so with a remarkable subtlety and sensibility. The new structures are distinctly modern, yet consonant with the Morgan's rich and particular ethos."

S. Parker Gilbert, President of the Board of Trustees, noted, "Pierpont Morgan was directly involved in the formation of such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. Yet the Library that bears his name best represents his unique and personal legacy to the American people. It has been gratifying to see the Library's tremendous growth, particularly over the past decade. The collections now number some 350,000 objects and we continue to acquire actively. Attendance has increased 250 percent during this period. There have been significant changes in the needs of researchers and the variety of educational programs we present to the public. Yet this growth has made more evident the ways in which we have outgrown our facilities and that we must improve certain existing spaces and overall access."

An Expanded and Better Integrated Campus

"As I walked around the Morgan and studied it from the streets of Manhattan," said Renzo Piano, "I recognized that the project—the solution—was not only to make the Morgan bigger but to make it better." The programmatic goals, which the Morgan identified and Piano has addressed, include:

  •  greater and improved storage space for rare materials
  • a Reading Room that meets the needs of today's technology
  • more space to show more of the treasures from the collections
  • a larger, fully equipped auditorium and other facilities for the lectures, concerts, and educational programs that are central to the Morgan's mission
  • a more welcoming entrance to accommodate increased visitorship and
  • improved internal circulation and handicap accessibility.

The comprehensive plan to expand and better integrate the campus includes preserving the three historic buildings (including bringing the 1928 Annex back to its original size) and the construction of a distinctive new steel-and-glass structure, which will be divided into three pavilions, each facing 36th Street, Madison Avenue, and 37th Street. Another key element of the plan is to build below ground to gain additional space for storage and operations without eclipsing the historic buildings or compromising the neighborhood's architectural integrity. The new main entrance, which will be larger and more commodious, will be located in the largest of the three pavilions on Madison Avenue. The entrance will lead into a large, central court from which all other museum and library activities will radiate. New landscaping surrounding the Library will enhance the fully enclosed, parklike setting. This new arrangement will replace the circuitous, often confusing, route visitors currently use to move about the complex.

New galleries and interpretive installations, some of which will be interactive, will create many more opportunities for adults, families, and schoolchildren to participate in programs devoted exclusively to the permanent collection. Other galleries will provide more space for the presentation of major loan exhibitions of master drawings, rare books, and original manuscripts. The Morgan has been an increasingly important venue for such exhibitions of holdings from internationally renowned private and public collections. The new exhibition space will be located in both the new structure and the 1928 Annex. Additionally, the glass walls of the main pavilion at the south and east ends of the new courtyard will make it possible for visitors to see the very beautiful side and back of the magnificent McKim Building. These views have never been publicly accessible.

Over the last three decades, the Morgan has gained a reputation as a presenter of quality musical arts programming. The completion of a 280-seat auditorium will enable the institution to build on this tradition. The auditorium, featuring superior acoustics and raked seating, will be a significant addition to New York concert venues as well as an elegant setting for dramatic readings, lectures, and other live performances.

The Reading Room, now housed in the Annex, will occupy a naturally lit space crowning the new Madison Avenue building. Outfitted with complete electronic services and many more workstations than the current facility, the new Reading Room should meet the needs of researchers well into this century.

"Renzo Piano has a deep respect for history and an astonishing aptitude for bringing a special elegance and purity to contemporary building design," said Dr. Pierce. "This has resulted in a superb master plan that will surely make the Morgan an even more beautiful and far more accessible cultural resource for our visitors, whether they come from right here in the neighborhood or travel internationally to see this American landmark. It has been a pleasure to work with him and other architects at his workshop.

"It has also been heartening to find such support from the architectural community," he added. "Along with the approval by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Municipal Art Society, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the New York City Chapter of the American Association of Architects, and Community Board #6, Manhattan, among other groups, have strongly endorsed our project."

Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Renzo Piano was born into a family of builders in Genoa, Italy, in 1937. He graduated from the School of Architecture at Milan Polytechnic in 1964. Over the course of his studies, he worked with Franco Albini and was a highly engaged visitor to his father's building sites. He was affiliated with Louis I. Kahn in Philadelphia and Z. S. Makowsky in London from 1965 to 1970. During this period he met Jean Prouvé, who was to have a profound influence on his architecture. His collaboration with Richard Rogers dates from 1971 (Piano and Rogers), with Peter Rice from 1977 (Atelier Piano & Rice), and he currently has offices in Genoa and Paris under the name Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

The prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, awarded to Piano in 1998, is among the many honors he has received. Selected major projects include the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1977, with Richard Rogers), the Menil Collection, Houston (1986), the Lingotto Factory restoration in Turin, Italy (1994), the Kansai International Airport, Osaka (1994), the Museum of the Beyeler Foundation, Basel (1998), the Jean Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center, Nouméa, New Caledonia (1998), and the Potsdamer Platz reconstruction, Berlin (1999). Along with the Morgan Library, his current projects include the London Bridge Tower, the New York Times Headquarters Building, and an expansion of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Expansion Schedule

The Morgan will remain open, offering exhibitions, along with related lectures, concerts, and other programs, through May 4, 2003. At that time, the Morgan will close to the public. (In preparation for the construction project, the McKim building will close to the public on December 4, 2002.) Off-site programs and services are being developed for the period of closure. The Morgan is scheduled to reopen, with expanded exhibition and other public spaces, and an enlarged café, shop, auditorium, and Reading Room by spring 2006. Paratus Group of New York is the coordinator and owner's representative for the project.

The Collections

The range of the Morgan's holdings, which consist of 350,000 objects, include ancient Near Eastern seals and tablets, master drawings and prints from the past five centuries, medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts, literary, historical, and music manuscripts, and rare printed books and fine bindings from the advent of printing to today's masterpieces.