Although Amon G. Carter, an editor and philanthropist from Fort Worth, and Philip Johnson, a famous New York architect, never met, their visions combined to create the museum that is now celebrated for his outstanding collection of American art. Carter did not live to see his dream of creating a great public museum where he could exhibit his great collection of American art, died in 1955. The museum was opened in 1961.
Like the collection it houses, the building has expanded and adapted to the demands imposed on it, but it remains primarily a place where people can experience American art.
The architect Philip C. Johnson was commissioned in 1958 to design a building where Amon Carter’s art collections could be exhibited and at the same time serve as a monument to the museum’s founder. The spectacular view from the place was one of the reasons why Johnson found the project particularly inspiring. The result was a building where details are distinguished, with beautiful and beautifully lit places, located in one of the few hills that are on this flat land. The sophistication of its construction and the materials used created a certain and apparent inconsistency with the place where it was built and the objects it was going to exhibit, but it was shown that the West is no longer as wild as some “non-Texans” believe and this museum Sophisticated, polished and vaguely “European” does not seem out of place.
In any case, no museum can be designed to contain only the original collection of its donors and judging by the growing enthusiasm for modern art throughout Texas, the Amon Carter Museum can house some very different works within a decade or two.
The museum is located on a gentle hillside, 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd, overlooking downtown Fort Worth, Texas, United States. The place was personally chosen by Amon Carter in 1951 and Johnson placed the building as high as possible on the hillside to maximize this panoramic view to the east.
A cultural district has grown around the museum and its neighboring institutions, and the building stands out for its architecture and the work of art it contains. Currently, the Amon Carter Museum in conjunction with the Louis Kahn´s Kimbell Museum of Art and the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art in Tadao Ando is part of the city’s “museum district.”
For his design Johnson was inspired by the Renaissance-style lodge, a covered and open gallery that opens onto an open plaza. Consequently, the east facade of the museum faces a grassy square surrounded by a promenade. In this project Philip Johnson reaffirms his architecturally simple and ornate international style, combining a classic structure with the use of modern materials.
The two-story glass curtain in the main facade with bronze uprights is protected by a 5-arched porch that faces east, towards the city. According to Johnson, this curtain wall separated “the art of the city, the cool from the warm, the peaceful from the active, the quiet from the windy.” The large portico or loggia, which rises the entire height of the stained glass window, in the style of many classic and Renaissance Italian buildings, is supported by conical limestone pillars, concave on 4 surfaces, which end in small cross-shaped bases. Initially, these conical columns were controversial and described as “ballet classicism.” Taking advantage of the space available outside the building and to extend its extension somewhat Johnson designed a processional entrance with granite steps in a series of landings and platforms. The steps and terraces point towards the city, with a large sunken and grassy square as the centerpiece. This square, 43x97m, in the eastern part of the site is aligned with the museum at the center of the city, as are the three bronze sculptures by Henry Moore that the museum acquired in 1962 and are exhibited on a single base designed by Johnson .
The main entrance leads directly to a two-story lobby, 7.32m high and 37m long, made of Texas stone inlaid with shells, dark extruded bronze, brown teak and a pink and gray granite floor. Beyond this lobby, Johnson designed five intimate galleries of equal size for the art exhibition that balconea to the central space. On the mezzanine floor, he placed five similar rooms for a library and offices that over time are operated as galleries for rotating exhibitions, each with a balcony that overlooks the main space that provides a grandiose but serene stage for sculpture works and Great pictures
1964 – Although in the beginning the museum was conceived as a small memorial space its collections increased rapidly and it was necessary to add an additional space. In 1964m Joseph R. Pelich who was Johnson’s associate architect in the development of the original project made an extension of 1,323.87 m2 in the basement to locate office space, bookstore, research library and a vault for storage of works of art. Pelich consulted with Johnson the work to be done to maintain consistency with the original design.
1977 – In this year Philip Johnson in conjunction with his partner John Burgee design a new extension for the museum. In this case the extension is 3400m2 distributed in more office space, a new 2-storey storage vault, an expansion of the library and an auditorium with 105 seats.
1999 – Despite all these extensions, the pace of expansion of the collections exceeded the capacity of the building and in 1999 the museum closed its doors to execute new plans, again under the design of Philip Johnson who made the building as a whole a unique example of his work, a project that the architect himself called “the building of my career”. The works that provided 3 times more available space lasted two years. The 1961 design was restored, eliminating the two subsequent extensions. With an area of 4645.15m2, of which 2600m2 correspond to exhibition areas, the museum reopened on October 21, 2001.
The 2001 expansion is based on the same footprint as the previous additions. To visually move away from the original building, it was coated with dark Arabic granite. The most striking feature of the expansion is an atrium located in the center, which rises almost 17m above the floor, topped by a curved roof with side windows, known as the Lantern. The interior walls of the atrium are lined with the characteristic shell stone and a double staircase gives access from the atrium to a gallery complex on the second floor where selections from the museum’s permanent collection are exhibited, along with special exhibits.
The extension carried out by Philip Johnson in 2001 includes a 160-seat auditorium, heated vaults for photo storage, laboratory space for the conservation of photographs and paper works, a research library, a museum library and a storage facility of files.
Johnson created a simple and elegant design that combined the warmth and richness of the bronze with the creamy and intricately stamped surface of the native Texas stone embedded with seashells to which he gave the treatment of the Italian travertine. Brown teak wood was also used. and pink and gray granite.
Both the arches of the facade and the conical columns that support them are clad in Texas native stone. Also the rest of the outer walls. In the last extension and to distinguish it from the original building the exterior walls were covered with dark granite.
The Amon Carter Museum in all its sophisticated details shows moderation and good taste. However, it is not a “pure” building in the conventional sense: for example, the portico shapes seem clearly made with concrete techniques but the conical columns were made in carved sections, such as a shell, and placed around a tubular column central. Johnson defends this falsification by referring to the fact that many details of Greek architecture in the temples were made of wood and painted on it imitating marble. This shell was carved by hand and its concave shapes make it look much more elegant than the flat or convex stone cladding generally used.
In addition to the fine finishes inside and out, the most impressive achievement of this building is its lighting. This is justifiably intense about the groups of sculptures, however, the light sources are completely invisible unless one stands directly under one of the large roof boxes and looks up. The grilles of these boxes, five throughout the main gallery, contain 36 high intensity sealed fittings placed in armored cones. These cones, in turn, are finished in black inside and their carefully calculated shape eliminates all reflections, so the light source is completely invisible from any angle.
In turn, these 0.61cm deep aluminum boxes mainly serve to reduce daytime glare because on top of each battery or lights there is a skylight that helps illuminate the gallery during those hours. The fins of the boxes are also painted black. In other parts of the museum, the lighting is equally spectacular, the light sources are rarely evident and everything is done to give special importance to the art that is exhibited.