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Gehry to dig into expansion

October 19, 2006|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES architect Frank O. Gehry has been named to oversee a 10-year plan for a major expansion of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The plan calls for Gehry, best known for the visual impact of his signature metallic curves in such projects as downtown's Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain, to create new space without disturbing the landmark neoclassical exterior of the 1928 museum.

To that end, the massive expansion will require Gehry to go underground, so to speak: Plans call for excavation beneath the campus to create space for new galleries for contemporary art and special exhibitions.

Reached Wednesday at his L.A. offices, Gehry, who plans to head to Philadelphia in early November to begin the design work, joked that the project will take him below the " 'Rocky' steps," made famous by Sylvester Stallone's famous fist-pumping run to the top as Rocky Balboa in the 1976 movie. "I'll be in the rocks under Rocky," he said. "The idea of going underground, making a whole internal space that is as beautiful and strong as it is when you control the exterior, was very intriguing."

Added Gehry with a laugh: "And after going through all the exterior stuff, maybe it's just being lazy; you don't have to fuss with the exterior."

The project also will involve renovation of existing interiors that will result in additional display areas. Overall, the expansion will create 80,000 square feet of new public space.

Although he is better known for eye-popping exteriors, Gehry said that underground work is hardly unprecedented in his career. "I did the Norton Simon Museum, their Asian galleries are all underground, and I remodeled the interior and never touched the exterior," he said.

The Gehry-designed expansion is the second step in an integrated building plan already begun by the acquisition of a landmark Art Deco building now named the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman building. That facility, which will open next year, is being redesigned by Gluckman Mayner Architects of New York.

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