View Full Version : The Morgan Library & Museum Expansion - 29 East 36th Street - by Renzo Piano

January 30th, 2002, 02:55 PM

A Plan Unfolds for a $75 Million Morgan Makeover


The Pierpont Morgan Library, an exquisite cultural treasure chest in Murray Hill, would reorient, expand and draw together its campus of historic buildings with three unmistakably modern steel-and-glass pavilions designed by Renzo Piano. The project is so ambitious it would require the Morgan to close for two years.

Under a plan presented yesterday to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Morgan would
move its entrance from 36th Street to Madison Avenue, create a glass-enclosed piazza in the middle of
the block, expand its gallery space, build a new auditorium and reading room, replace its office wing,
sink a new vault deep into bedrock and add a cubic structure in the yard between J. Pierpont Morgan's
original library and the later annex, both landmarks.

"Since I became director of the Morgan in 1987, my chief goal has been to provide greater public
access to both the buildings and the collections," Charles E. Pierce Jr. told the commission. He said Mr.
Piano's plan achieved the goal with "remarkable subtlety and sensibility."

The hearing adjourned without a vote by the commission on whether the expansion would be
appropriate. The commission will take up the matter again next month. It is also expected to restore
landmark status to the former J. P. Morgan Jr. house at Madison Avenue and 37th Street, which the
library acquired in 1988. The Lutheran Church in America once had its headquarters there and fought
successfully to revoke the landmark designation in 1974.

The Morgan's expansion project is to begin in 2003 and may cost up to $75 million. ("We've just
started to do serious fund-raising," Mr. Pierce said.) During the two years of construction, the library's
collection of 350,000 objects — rare books, illuminated manuscripts, prints and drawings — will be
stored elsewhere.

The architects are the Renzo Piano Building Workshop of Paris and Genoa and Beyer Blinder Belle of
New York.

Mr. Piano likened his work to microsurgery. "The spirit of the scheme is not really to grow," he said.
"It's more about rebalancing, rethinking the institution."

Of the 69,400 square feet of new space, 43,300 will be underground, in an auditorium seating about
280 people and a vault hewn from bedrock. "There is no better place to preserve books forever than
Manhattan schist," Mr. Piano told the commission.

With most of the space underground, the pavilions can be held to the same scale as the older structures
around them.

The new entrance, set back from the avenue, would replace a swoop- roofed, glass-enclosed
courtyard from 1991 by Voorsanger & Mills. Over the entrance would be a windowless facade of
recessed steel panels in a large-scale grid, behind which would be a reading room and gallery.

"Symbolically, what this building is about, above everything else, is the protection of art," Mr. Piano
said, explaining the decision to use steel in the facade. Though no decision has been made yet on color,
the architect said he was leaning toward the verdigris of weathered copper.

Beyond the lobby would be an inner courtyard that Mr. Piano likened to a piazza. Standing in this
space, at the heart of the complex, visitors would be able to orient themselves visually to their

On 37th Street, a small office building added in 1957 by the Lutheran Church would be replaced by a
new four-story structure.

On 36th Street, a faceted steel cube would be inserted between the original library of 1906, by
McKim, Mead & White, and the annex added 22 years later by Benjamin Wistar Morris after the
library opened to the public.

Inside would be a 20-by-20-by-20- foot room whose "magical" proportions would lend themselves to
the display of "a piece of the treasure house coming up from the vaults," Mr. Piano said.

But Robert A. M. Stern, a prominent architect and architectural historian, told the commission by letter
that he was concerned the cube "unnecessarily compromises the gardenesque setting that is key to the
meaning of the two buildings facing 36th Street."

Civic groups generally supported the plan, though some expressed reservations about adding the cube
and moving the entrance. "We will miss the sense of having the privilege of entering a unique private
space," said Sandra Levine of the Historic Districts Council.

Earlier in the day, the commission created the Murray Hill Historic District, an irregular five-block
swath between 34th and 39th Streets, Park and Lexington Avenues, filled with 19th- and early
20th-century row houses, as well as the Church of the New Jerusalem at 112 East 35th Street.

Calling it a "remarkably cohesive enclave possessing a distinct sense of place," Sherida E. Paulsen, the
commission chairwoman, confessed that she was surprised to learn last year that it was not already a
historic district.

May 3rd, 2003, 10:30 PM

May 4th, 2003, 02:14 AM
Thank you for sharing Stern. I have a magazine somewhere that has an article about this. I forgot about this project. I think it is Archit (ecture Magazine). I'll try to remember to look for it this week end. Thanks Christian for the RP Workshop link.

March 1st, 2004, 07:41 PM
Through a plexiglass window on Madison Ave. It's still a hole in the ground, but a big one.

March 17th, 2004, 10:52 PM

May 20th, 2004, 01:34 PM

July 26th, 2004, 12:24 PM

January 5th, 2005, 04:49 AM
The New Morgan Campus (http://www.morganlibrary.org/expansion/campus.asp)

January 6th, 2005, 12:19 AM
Thanks for the excellent link, Kris (as usual!). It gives a nice tour of the new "campus." I had been unaware of the new 280-seat performance hall, plus a multi-media presentation center suitable for family-oriented education events. (The new campus also includes a restaurant and store, seemingly required these days.) Hopefully with the additions a new generation will discover the "new" Morgan.

January 6th, 2005, 08:57 AM
nice pics...its looking nice

January 6th, 2005, 10:38 AM
That must be the only block in Manhattan where you can dig without chopping into a nest of cables,steam pipes,water mains or subway tunnels.

January 6th, 2005, 10:54 AM
Those utilities usually run under streets.

February 1st, 2005, 09:59 PM

February 1st, 2005, 11:20 PM
That was quick.

February 11th, 2006, 06:03 AM
February 12, 2006
Streetscapes | 36th Street and Madison Avenue
A Private Library That Became a Public Treasure

February 11th, 2006, 09:28 AM
I don't like the addition on the Madison Avenue side. It looks like 70's architecture. Piano did not earn his fee for this project.

From what I've seen, his renderings for the Whitnew expansion are even worse. That appears to be a 17 story, windowless, metal box that will really stick out.

March 4th, 2006, 10:11 PM
http://img222.imageshack.us/img222/2799/morganlib01c0gc.th.jpg (http://img222.imageshack.us/my.php?image=morganlib01c0gc.jpg) http://img394.imageshack.us/img394/5335/morganlib02c9kr.th.jpg (http://img394.imageshack.us/my.php?image=morganlib02c9kr.jpg)

http://img394.imageshack.us/img394/3796/morganlib03c7cm.th.jpg (http://img394.imageshack.us/my.php?image=morganlib03c7cm.jpg) http://img398.imageshack.us/img398/1853/morganlib04c4rb.th.jpg (http://img398.imageshack.us/my.php?image=morganlib04c4rb.jpg) http://img398.imageshack.us/img398/8091/morganlib05c3sr.th.jpg (http://img398.imageshack.us/my.php?image=morganlib05c3sr.jpg)

March 4th, 2006, 10:16 PM
Supposed to open in May. Will it?

March 4th, 2006, 10:21 PM
While I do like the NYT Tower, this work sucks in my opinion.

March 4th, 2006, 10:24 PM
Judging by the outside, I'd guess yes. Workers were spreading topsoil at the Madison Ave side. I could see construction scaffolding on the inside, but hard to tell how far along the interior is.

March 4th, 2006, 11:15 PM

I'm hoping in person it is different, but from photos the new addition looks terrible! I'm shocked by the cheap-looking exterior,so boring, especially when it is plunked down between those beautifully solid old buildings. The attempt at blending the new into the old by way of the same color is misguided and doesn't work like this IMO. I like the blending of periods and styles, but here it fails. A touch of color might have been nice, or more transparency/ lightness. I guess what I really hate are those rectangular panels. They put the ug in ugly.

March 5th, 2006, 12:17 AM
Another letdown and disappointment. So what's new in this city?
I'm still waiting for the day when, at the sight of something so spectacular going up in this city, that my jaw will drop to the ground in amazement.
Will that day ever come?

March 5th, 2006, 01:33 AM
The rendering of this project is deceptive, both in the use of muted color -- which makes all of the buildings seem part of a whole -- when in fact the color, particularly of the brownstone v. the new addition / original mansion are quite distinct:


The website ( http://www.morganlibrary.org/expansion/overview.asp ) includes one statement that is just pure BS:

A very important aspect of Piano’s design is that much of the new space will be created underground. This will make it possible to expand the Morgan by about one third, without exceeding the height of neighboring structures or compromising the neighborhood’s scale.

The top-most point of the addition is clearly higher than the mansion -- and with the mechanicals on the roof (not shown in the rendering) it is even taller than it appears here.

Also, the perspective shown above minimizes the impact of the height of the new addition in relation to the mansion -- when viewed in person the new addition quite overwhelms the mansion, both in height and volume.

Hopefully the addition of trees will help to soften the impact of the new addition.

March 5th, 2006, 01:42 AM
On the other hand the interior spaces should be great.

I didn't know that a new performance hall / auditorium was included:

© 2002 Renzo Piano Building Workshop and the Morgan Library.
Photography by Todd Eberle. © 2002 Todd Eberle.
Model for new performance hall

© 2002 Renzo Piano Building Workshop and the Morgan Library.
Cross section showing auditorium

Great pics here: http://www.morganlibrary.org/expansion/credits.asp

March 5th, 2006, 04:04 AM
Why, oh why, didn´t he cover that box with the same limestone as the original structure... it would´ve worked fine.

March 5th, 2006, 06:47 AM
Another letdown and disappointment.
I'm still waiting for the day when, at the sight of something so spectacular going up in this city, that my jaw will drop to the ground in amazement.I don't think a jaw-dropping look was the goal, given the understated elegance of the McKim building. The windowless aspect was probably dictated by interior requirements.

I agree with Fabrizio about the choice of materials. To me, it looks almost industrial, like a steel retaining wall. Since this was a huge project, digging deep through bedrock near sensitive structures, I can't believe that cost was a factor in not choosing limestone.

March 5th, 2006, 07:25 AM
Tagging could only improve this surface.

March 5th, 2006, 08:26 AM
If that wall were green glass it would be elegant. I'm sure the floor plan doesn't allow it, but can we dream...?

March 5th, 2006, 08:21 PM
The top-most point of the addition is clearly higher than the mansion -- and with the mechanicals on the roof (not shown in the rendering) it is even taller than it appears here.

The description you quoted was referring to the buildings adjacent to the Morgan Library, and I believe is correct. The tallest part of the addition will, in fact, be a little shorter than the height of many of the buildings around Morgan.

While I think it is important for architects to represent their proposals acurately, I also think it is important for people to interpret them intelligently. Looking at the wood model for this building, it's clear to me that it is not supposed to represent the materials or color used on it. You can however determine these things from the written description and use you imagination a little. I think this way of previewing a building is sometimes better than all those glitzy renderings so popular these days - they are often completely inaccurate.

My thoughts about the Morgan addition (based only on the pictures Zippy posted) are less kind. It looks too industrial next to the classic old facade.

April 10th, 2006, 05:03 AM
April 10, 2006
Architecture Review
Renzo Piano's Expansion of the Morgan Library Transforms a World of Robber Barons and Scholars

Video: Mesmerizing Rhythm (http://nytimes.feedroom.com/?fr_story=45d70603f723c68b8a07daf324af4f0446725969 )

Slide Show: A New Order (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2006/04/10/arts/20060410_MORGAN_SLIDESHOW_1.html)

If some architects feel a twinge of envy at the mention of Renzo Piano, who can blame them? In the United States alone, the Italian architect is working on or has just finished major museum projects in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. And two decades after its completion, the art world still speaks reverently of the serene, muted light in his Menil Collection building in Houston.

As if that weren't enough, Mr. Piano divides his time between Paris and Genoa and often spends summers sailing off the coast of Sardinia.

Such success has spawned jealous whispers that Mr. Piano is losing his edge. He is too polite to clients, some architects say, as if to imply that he is too quick to compromise — and worst of all, too "safe."

His dazzling expansion of the Morgan Library and Museum collection, which opens to the public on April 29, may either stoke that envy or forever put it to rest. A sublime expression of the architect's preoccupation with light, the design transforms the world of robber barons and dust-coated scholars conjured by the old Morgan into a taut architectural composition bursting with civic hope.

His triumph at the site, where order is brought to a jumble of buildings collected over nearly a century, should temporarily allay complaints that New York's cultural institutions shrink from a high level of architectural innovation.

(Full disclosure: Mr. Piano, of course, is the architect of the future New York Times Company building rising on Eighth Avenue. I can only dream that the Times tower lives up to the standard set at the Morgan.)

The original library, designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1906, is a landmark of Beaux-Arts design, but it was never a very welcoming building. Its severe 36th Street Palladian facade, punctured by a dark entry porch, makes you think of top hats and smoke-filled rooms — a dignified reliquary for a dying culture. Morgan's son, Jack, built a boxy annex in 1928 as part of a broad effort to expand the institution's profile; an undistinguished glass atrium by Voorsanger & Mills was added in 1991 to link the annex with a Morgan family brownstone at Madison and 37th Street.

Mr. Piano navigates this history with remarkable deftness. Blasting through 50 feet of bedrock, he adds book vaults and a 280-seat theater underground, minimizing the visual scale of his project. The Voorsanger addition is gone, replaced by a large glass-and-steel entry pavilion. Two more pavilions — a gallery and offices — are set on 36th and 37th Streets, completing three sides of a central light-drenched court.

The layout sets up a mesmerizing rhythm between new and old. The boxy pavilions are joined to the more massive stone buildings by vertical slots of glass. By creating a slight separation between each of the buildings Mr. Piano allows pedestrians a glimpse deep into the central court from side streets to the north and south. It's as if the Morgan complex has been gently pulled apart to let life flow through the interiors, hinting at the fragile balance between the city's chaotic energy and the scholar's interior life.

The layout of the pavilions can be read as a commentary on the old Morgan's pretensions. Built during an age of industrialization that was brutishly steamrolling toward the future, the blank marble facades of the old buildings were meant to cloak Morgan's money in the veneer of the past. But Mr. Piano's pavilions embrace industrial values without shame or hesitation. Their straightforward and stoic exterior facades, painted a creamy white that echoes the color of the stone buildings, imply that we're all grown-up sophisticated people, comfortable in our own skins.

To enter the building through its new Madison Avenue entrance, you slip first under the steel cube that houses the reading room, the full weight of the building bearing down upon you, before experiencing the psychic release of the soaring glass atrium. This is the soul of Mr. Piano's design, and its most spectacular and complex space.

The older buildings, all accessible from here, anchor three corners of the atrium. A towering window at the rear offers a view of prewar apartment buildings. Elevator landings that lead to the upper gallery and reading room project out overhead. The tops of a few corporate towers can be glimpsed in the distance.

It's not a very romantic view; Mr. Piano is not precious about New York's history. The Empire State Building spire blends in with the chipped brick facades and tinted glass surfaces that are part of our everyday lives: hard, gritty and sometimes glamorous. We're left with a subtly layered urban experience in which the Morgan's interior is part of a broader urban picture.

That effect is reinforced by Mr. Piano's dexterous use of materials. Unlike Yoshio Taniguchi's recently expanded Museum of Modern Art, conceived as a series of abstract floating planes, Mr. Piano's building is made of flesh and bones. The steel surfaces are not polished to an abstract finish; instead, the heavy joints between his welded steel plates are left exposed. I-beams rest solidly atop of slender cruciform columns; you can feel their weight.

And of course, there is the light. Ever since the completion of the Menil Collection building in 1987, Mr. Piano has been tinkering with the slight variations of light in his buildings. Here, he creates a dramatic interplay between vast public spaces bathed in natural light and vaultlike rooms that serve as galleries and reading rooms. The result is a space with the weight of history and the lightness of clouds.

The full force is felt once you circulate through the galleries and reading rooms, old and new. A new, perfect white cube of a gallery illuminated through a sheer fabric ceiling is a counterpart to the florid rooms of the old Morgan, whose marble rotunda has never looked more seductive — or debauched. This is just as true of the brand-new third-floor reading room, whose simplicity is as comforting, in its way, as McKim, Mead & White's more ornate mahogany-paneled reading room.

These more intimate spaces are not just about bookish reflection. Within the ethereal atmosphere of Mr. Piano's light-filled world, they are places where the imagination can roam into darker territory. Think of the dormant figure in the famous plate from Goya's "Caprichos" series, "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters."

We're a long way from the Pompidou Center, the 1970's-era people's palace that Mr. Piano designed with Richard Rogers when the two were brash young newcomers. In its play of weight and airiness, the Morgan is closer in spirit to works like Henri Labrouste's design for the National Library in Paris, whose classical structuralism was intended as a slap at the Beaux-Arts Academy.

In the end, the Morgan expansion is the work of a master who has reached full maturity, and is thus at ease with contradiction.

Mr. Piano no longer has any interest in annihilating the past; nor does he worship it blindly. He appreciates its rare treasures while living solidly in the present. A result is a building that doesn't retreat from the city, but makes us fall in love with it all over again.


Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

April 10th, 2006, 07:21 AM
Sounds awfully good, but where are the pictures?

April 10th, 2006, 10:38 AM
You can click here: Slide Show: A New Order (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2006/04/10/arts/20060410_MORGAN_SLIDESHOW_1.html)

Meanwhile ...

Michael Falco for The New York Times

Bringing order to a jumble of buildings: In Renzo Piano's expansion, the main entrance to the Morgan Library
is now on Madison Avenue. The collection opens April 29.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

The large central atrium at the Morgan Library,
looking west toward Madison Avenue.
The white enclosed structure with projecting elevator
landings houses a gallery and reading room.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

J. P. Morgan's former study with its collection of
Italian Renaissance works is in the original building,
designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1906.

Michael Falco for The New York Times

Looking southwest visitors can spot the spire

of the Empire State Building through a steel and
glass wall of Renzo Piano's atrium, part of his
expansion for the Morgan.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

A 280-seat underground auditorium at the newly expanded Morgan Library will be used for
concerts and lectures. It is below the central atrium.

April 20th, 2006, 04:32 AM
April 20, 2006
Morgan Library to Reopen With an Expanded Look, Name and Mission

The Morgan Library and Museum's Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery, which houses medieval treasures.

Being viewed as one of the best-kept secrets in New York might be flattering to some institutions, but not the Morgan. When it reopens next week after having been shuttered for nearly three years, it will have undergone not only a $106 million expansion and renovation but also an image makeover.

Its new, gleaming steel-and-glass entrance is on Madison Avenue, supplanting the discreet Old World one around the corner on East 36th Street. And banners on the facade herald a change in name: rather than the Morgan Library, it is now the Morgan Library and Museum.

For the 82-year-old Morgan, the point is to proclaim that it is not just a well-preserved relic from Manhattan's Gilded Age, but a modern museum with world-class collections and a full schedule of special exhibitions. For the first time it will have space to show off considerably more of its own treasures, including a rare Gutenberg Bible, ancient Near Eastern seals and drawings by masters like Leonardo, Rubens, Degas and Schiele. Its host of rare manuscripts range from medieval treatises to hundreds of letters from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to an autographed manuscript of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."

Renzo Piano, the architect who oversaw the expansion, designed a modern addition in keeping with the scale of its three existing buildings: the original 1906 Morgan library designed by Charles McKim; the 1928 Annex building designed by Benjamin Wistar Morris; and the mid-19th-century Morgan House, which was redesigned by R. H. Robertson. There are new galleries; a 280-seat auditorium for concerts and lectures; a restaurant in the former Morgan family dining room; a cafe; and a bookshop.

"We're going to be the ultimate treasure show," Charles E. Pierce Jr., the Morgan's soft-spoken director, said last week as he showed off a new gallery, a 20-foot cube that, while painted a pristine white, was inspired by the proportions of grand rooms in Italian Renaissance villas. Here curators were about to install some of the Morgan's greatest medieval treasures, including the Stavelot Triptych, a reliquary made of gold, cloisonné and Mosan enamels and ancient gems, and the Lindau Gospels, with its elaborate jeweled bindings.

"We're trying to educate the public about our collections," Mr. Pierce (pronounced purse) said.

"If you took someone from Paris or St. Louis who had never been to New York, and asked them to characterize the Frick and the Morgan," he mused, "they would be able to characterize the Frick," the Fifth Avenue mansion turned museum that was once the home of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick. "But they couldn't say what exactly what the Morgan was."

Having grown by 75,000 square feet, the Morgan for the first time will be able really to tell its story of how the financier J. Pierpont Morgan spent a lifetime collecting, starting at age 14, when he ordered his first set of covers of the Illustrated London News in 1852.

Eventually, Morgan assembled a library that ranged from collections of religious texts to classics of Victorian literature, medieval art and historical manuscripts. He collected paintings by Corot, Frederic Edwin Church and Asher B. Durand as well as old masters like Hans Memling and Perugino.

From 1890 (when his father, Junius Morgan, died) to his death in 1913, Pierpont Morgan amassed more than 3,000 objects, including 600 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and 1,500 old master drawings.

His son, J. P. Morgan Jr., decided that his father's library was too important to remain in private hands, and in 1924 he opened it as a public institution.

The Morgan's collections have since expanded through gifts and purchases. In 1994 the dealer, collector and longtime board member Eugene V. Thaw pledged his prestigious collection of old master and 19th-century drawings; in 1998, the Morgan also received Carter Burden's collection of American and European literary works and the Pierre Matisse Gallery archives, which includes letters from artists including Balthus, Chagall, Miró, Tanguy, Giacometti and Dubuffet.

In designing his addition, Mr. Piano was as sensitive to the Morgan's past as he was to its needs for the future.

Half of the expansion is below ground. Mr. Piano and his team burrowed down some 60 feet, removing about 46,000 tons of rock that Morgan officials say was carted away in 1,300 truckloads. Its underworld is a blend of public spaces — the auditorium for concerts — and highly private areas, like its climate-controlled storage vaults, meticulously organized by collecting category.

Above ground are galleries that, while retaining the modest scale of the original Morgan buildings, are mainly set around large glass windows providing panoramic vistas of Manhattan buildings.

In the old reading room can now be found a selection of drawings dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries: Leonardo and Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Rubens, Watteau and Tiepolo, Cézanne and Pollock. Across the hall, where special exhibitions were once installed, are custom-built cabinets displaying illuminated manuscripts set against dark brown ultrasuede. Here visitors will file past treats from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves to 35 hand-painted tarot cards, one of the earliest and most complete 15th-century sets known to exist.

Signaling a new openness, the Morgan's office is no longer protected by red ropes. The public will be able to troop through that sanctum to admire his collection of Italian and Flemish old masters and family portraits on walls of crimson-flocked fabric. In anticipation of the reopening, all the artworks have been cleaned and the lighting updated.

"We wanted to let the public have a closer look," Mr. Pierce said. Even the Morgan's original private vault in that room will be visible.

The new, modern galleries will have a fresh emphasis on the 20th century. Last year the Morgan hired its first curator for works of art from the last century. In 2005 it also received an important bequest from the Broadway lyricist Fred Ebb: mostly works on paper by German Expressionist and Vienna Secessionist artists, including Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

"Our basic challenge," Mr. Pierce said, "is how to maintain a balance between beautiful shows that relate to the permanent collection while at the same time have shows with popular appeal."

One telling sign is an exhibition planned for this fall: "Bob Dylan's American Journey: 1956 to 1966."

Banners announce the new name of the former Morgan Library.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

April 24th, 2006, 01:06 PM
The house of Morgan
An expansion reinvigorates the legendary financier's famous library

Newsday Staff Writers

April 23, 2006

An exhibit of manuscripts in a new gallery at the Morgan Library documents the hard road to art. One handwritten score bears Beethoven's scribbles upon scribbles, his final thoughts a jagged reef of notes engulfed by a sea of rejected ideas. The beloved elephant Babar springs from a few of Jean de Brunhoff's brushstrokes of gray and green watercolor. Bob Dylan's handwritten lyrics to "It Ain't Me, Babe" crawl across a sheet of hotel stationery.

The display captures the way the imagination sputters and unfurls through a series of provisional stages. The library itself - both the collection and the complex - grew by the same agglomerative process. Architect Renzo Piano's gorgeous expansion, which opens Saturday, places that history under glass.

Like most multigenerational projects, this one grew through alternating bouts of construction and demolition. The dark Victorian brownstone that now houses the Morgan's gift shop and cafe is the oldest structure on the block between 36th and 37th streets at Madison Avenue.

A titan's vision

J.P. Morgan's original library, a private palazzo designed 100 years ago by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead and White, is a hodgepodge of neo-Renaissance splendors, its interiors barnacled with wood paneling, scarlet damask, marble and painted ceilings. The 1928 Annex, by contrast, represents the apex of opulent simplicity. Until recently it housed the reading room, a dim haven where scholars could peruse brittle manuscripts in a clubby atmosphere of Old New York.

Today, these antique cocoons surround a new sunlit atrium, which Piano refers to as a piazza. It is one of the city's most inviting spaces. The glass canopy acts as a vitrine, turning the library's buildings into objects and people into specimens. Great sheets of glass lightly abut marble walls, marking a slender but firm border between old and modern. Whereas the rebuilt Museum of Modern Art merges disparate structures into a sleek whole, Piano's approach is about making distinctions.

The $106-million renovation of the Morgan Library is Piano's first completed project in New York City. He has a clutch of others on the way: an expansion of the Whitney Museum, a new campus for Columbia University and an Eighth Avenue headquarters for The New York Times. He is a good choice for a city where time is always producing fresh relics that demand preservation as well as reinvention. The Morgan is a model of how to use architecture as connective tissue.

Instead of entering through the polychrome foyer of the Annex on 36th Street, visitors will march in from Madison Avenue through an unassuming steel facade. Inside, rather than the corporate modernism of MoMA, they will find the center of a tiny humanist village.

A conduit to history

The new lobby, like the library McKim built for J.P. Morgan, is wood-paneled, though the effect has nothing to do with old port and fat cigars. Warm walls of cherry and wide-planked oak floors mitigate the severity of white steel and clear glass. Sunlight - lifter of spirits, destroyer of ancient paper - pierces the Morgan's membrane. This is a place to congregate, and to choose among paths through history.

From the atrium, assorted byways lead away from the light into the darkened sanctums, where the museum's collection ranges across roomfuls of drawings, manuscripts, bound books, ancient seals, letters and musical scores.

The library has been closed for three years, so it's stunning to be reminded of the depth of its holdings. Between 1899 and his death in 1913, Morgan went on an epic buying spree, amassing, among loads of other things, more than 3,000 medieval objects and 600 manuscripts. That's five purchases a week from the Middle Ages alone.

Chief among those acquisitions was the Stavelot Triptych, an almost ridiculously ornate and bejeweled example of Byzantine metalwork from around 1100. The triptych occupies pride of place in the one folly Piano allowed himself, a perfectly cubical freestanding gallery clad in faceted white steel.

Lone misstep

To the architect, the 20-by-20-by- 20-foot cube merges the Renaissance fondness for simple geometries and the nobleman's private retreat, or studiolo. In the context of New York City, it looks like a high-ceilinged box topped with elaborate louvers to regulate natural light that curators will rarely want. It is the design's one major misstep.

Everywhere else, small and fragile items already look acclimated to their surroundings. The old reading room has been recycled into a drawings gallery, a place of muted spectacle. An Ingres pencil sketch of a portly gentleman hints at palpable flesh, a gentle Claude Lorrain landscape basks in a sepia haze and masked, beast-like figures carouse through a Pollock drawing.

Across the marbled hall, display cases, nicely equipped with bars for leaning on, contain illuminated manuscripts, a Gutenberg Bible and the better part of a 15th century deck of tarot cards in hues that have remained miraculously bright.

This was once the library's main gallery, crammed with partitions to maximize wall space. Piano has added a spacious modern display area upstairs. It is a generic, flexible space where the Babar watercolors and Beethoven manuscripts have taken up temporary residence, alongside pages from Dickens' notebooks, Byron's jottings and Galileo's back-of-an-envelope calculations of the orbits of Jupiter's moons.

There is something exhilarating about seeing the detritus of raw inspiration and hard work in these polished precincts. The Morgan has enshrined the mess of creation and made it intelligible. McKim's original library, with its baronial fittings, embalms the Gilded Age taste of its founder, while the new addition honors his mandate to make his collection "permanently available for the instruction and pleasure of the American people."

This museum, whose architectural styles range from high patrician luxe to airy modern transparency, wrestles with the American ambivalence toward privilege. Unlike the other tycoons of his generation, self-made industrialists such as Carnegie, Vanderbilt and Frick, Morgan was born into high society, and he aspired to European aristocratic refinement. He bought furiously, entering his voraciously assembled collection into competition with the millennial accretions of Chatsworth, the vast estate of the Dukes of Devonshire.

(Morgan's eye sometimes passed unmoved over his exquisite possessions. He once demanded to know the whereabouts of a Michelangelo sculpture that had been sitting in front of his desk for a year - and later turned out not to be by Michelangelo after all.)

The Morgan Library has been quietly adding to its collection during its fallow years, stowing its acquisitions in fresh vaults that Piano excavated out of Manhattan schist. Indeed, some of the Morgan's finest new spaces are underground, especially a 280-seat jewel casket of a concert hall paneled in cherry and upholstered in cardinal red. Like J.P. Morgan's painted lair, the institution he left is not an extroverted place, but a house of hidden riches.


The Morgan Library reopens Saturday. It is located at 225 Madison Ave. between 36th and 37th streets, Manhattan. For admissions hours and program information, call 212-685-0008 or go to www.themorgan.org.

The library inaugurates its new underground Gilder Lehrman Hall May 2 with a concert by baritone Thomas Hampson, pianist Craig Rutenberg and the Vermeer Quartet. The next day, the Morgan launches a new lectures series, "Old Masters and Modern Masters: Face to Face," which features appearances by playwright Edward Albee, author Pete Hamill and poet Seamus Heaney.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.

April 24th, 2006, 03:02 PM
Totally missed out on this project until now. First time I've ever heard of it. Damn, New York ALWAYS has something grand going on that you don't know of.

April 24th, 2006, 03:44 PM
Images of the expansion from the Architect's Newspaper...




All images from www.archpaper.com

April 24th, 2006, 03:47 PM
I wish the exterior did nor contrast so bluntly with the old buildings.

April 24th, 2006, 04:13 PM
At a minimum, it should be instructive to the general public of declining architectural standards. All the hosannas bestowed upon the new addition by Nic Ourousoff should drive home that lesson even further.

April 24th, 2006, 08:16 PM
Even if it stayed in this general style, it could have been improved a lot simply by replacing the white panels with glass, which would have called less attention to itself than the steel.

I wish the exterior did nor contrast so bluntly with the old buildings.

April 24th, 2006, 08:59 PM
Even if it stayed in this general style, it could have been improved a lot simply by replacing the white panels with glass, which would have called less attention to itself than the steel.
My thoughts exactly. Glass creates airiness, gives an impression that the new building is an entrance yet also an annex, an intermediate building that just supports the main ones, not overpowers them with a dull white box. I'm liking Renzo Piano less and less. Maybe he's good with interiors; I hope he sticks to them in this case.

April 25th, 2006, 11:21 AM

April 25th, 2006, 11:23 AM
Piano's New Pavilion Puts Light on Morgan Library's Piazza

April 24 (Bloomberg) -- With an elegant tracery of steel and glass, Renzo Piano has adroitly drawn together the three eminent buildings of the Morgan Library and Museum, at last creating the setting its extraordinary collection merits.

When the three-year, $102 million makeover opens to the public on April 29, visitors will find twice as much exhibition space, though it totals only about 10,000 square feet. Because most of the Morgan's objects are small, that's enough to display riches galore. And even with Piano's angular modernism, the Morgan retains its peculiar combination of robber-baron grandeur and domestic intimacy.

When architectural diplomacy is required, museums turn to Piano, 68, whose Renzo Piano Building Workshop is based in Genoa and Paris. He has recently completed well-received projects in Dallas and Atlanta. In coming years, he'll build for five prominent American museums.

At the Morgan, he found room for 75,000 square feet of new space on its crowded Manhattan campus, about half of it below ground. The princely sum bought a great deal the public won't see, including a serene, invitation-only top-floor reading room and a three-level, high-tech underground vault to preserve the collection's 350,000 items.

Dingy Entrance

The new Madison Avenue entrance, set between a beefy 1853 brownstone and a library annex built in 1928, strikes the only sour note. The dingy, painted-steel surface perfectly matches the rose-hued marble of the annex, but it makes the entrance look like a hospital-size ventilation unit.

Beyond the wide lobby entrance, Piano unfurls a 55-foot-high prismatic glass room that marks the crossing of the museum's myriad paths. Mastery of light is the architect's equivalent of an opera singer's high note, and Piano delivers, diffusing sun ethereally with metal grates and shades. The spires of nearby buildings appear to press in on this crystal pavilion, which actually makes it feel even more generous an oasis from the urban din.

From this central gathering space, which Piano likes to call a piazza, visitors must go in five different directions to access the Morgan's original library and its six galleries. It's far from an ideal arrangement, but each of the old structures was demonically conceived, it seems, to prevent a flowing connection. (A greenhouse link, completed in 1993, was sacrificed for Piano's much larger addition.)

Redone Galleries

A slick, glass-box elevator rises within the glass room to a new upper-level gallery devoted to book and music manuscripts. Peer at Jane Austen's perfectly handwritten and elegantly bound manuscript for ``Lady Susan.'' Across is ``It Ain't Me, Babe,'' lazily inked by Bob Dylan.

A second new exhibition space, one level below the piazza, offers an inaugural display of Piano's own work, including drawings and models of the Morgan project.

Piano chopped out bedrock to make room for an adjoining 280- seat recital and lecture room, draping it lusciously in panels of burnished red cherry wood. If this gorgeous hall sounds as good as it looks, it will give the similarly sized Weill Hall at Carnegie a run for its money.

The original 1906 library, concocted by famed architect Charles F. McKim, has been buffed and polished. Set in this lovely marble pavilion is Morgan's personal library, one of New York's most spectacular rooms. Bookcases rise in three tiers to an elaborately decorated ceiling and a skylight twined playfully in stained-glass vines.

Signature Bauble

Piano has placed a small, classically proportioned gallery between the library and the annex. This bauble, 20 feet square and 20 feet high, is the Morgan's only art-display space that admits daylight, elaborately filtered by Piano's trademark assembly of movable louvers, glass roof and a diffusing scrim of fabric. At the opening it will host medieval and Renaissance objects, including the 9th-century Lindau Gospels.

In the annex, easel tables make the close-up examination of exquisite drawings a pleasure. (The collection spans 500 years, from Raphael to Jackson Pollock.) Also displayed are gorgeous book bindings and one of the Morgan's three Gutenberg bibles.

In the brownstone that was for many years the home of Pierpont's son, Jack, Piano inserted a restaurant and museum shop in handsomely restored rooms, though I can't imagine the Morgan will long retain the woodwork's bilious green paint.

Blue-Chip Bad Boy

Piano was once architecture's bad boy, scandalizing the museum world in 1978 when the Pompidou Center in Paris turned museum-going into entertainment. (Piano designed it with London- based Richard Rogers.) Now he's the blue-chip choice for risk- averse museum boards. The Morgan is the latest variation on the graceful modern pavilions he's refined since he completed Houston's Menil Collection in 1986.

Museum directors and curators love Piano because of his evident respect for art. His best work has been for singular collections and strong-willed collectors like Dominique De Menil and Ernst Beyeler, who built the already revered Fondation Beyeler in a suburb of Basel, Switzerland.

Piano's increasingly familiar ingredients threaten to become formulaic for museums with more diffuse personalities, such as the Whitney, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Yet, somewhat to my surprise, his bespoke style fits the Morgan perfectly. The extraordinary refinement and air of calm clears the brain for appreciation of an obsessively scribbled-out 1808 piano trio by Beethoven or the 1440 Dutch Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

To contact the writer of this story:
James S. Russell at jamesrussell@earthlink.net.

April 27th, 2006, 07:58 PM
Can't say that I am a big fan of the design or the materials used either, but I just walked down Madison tonight and the block is full of life. The museum is packed, the cafes are full, and it kind of gave me a different perspective. It seems alot less like "hospital ventilation shaft" now and just shows that what a building becomes is a lot more than the physical elements!

April 28th, 2006, 11:51 AM
I wish the exterior was as inspired as the interior. However, if that exterior was necessary to create an interior place that looks rather extraordinary, so be it. It does look much better lit in the evening than in daylight.

April 28th, 2006, 03:05 PM
April 28, 2006
Art Review
The Morgan's Treasures Bedazzle in Their New Jewel Box

Slide Show: A Treasure Trove (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2006/04/27/arts/20060428_MORG_SLIDESHOW_1.html)

IT has been 2 years, 11 months, 3 weeks and 6 days since the Morgan Library closed for its expansion by Renzo Piano. Not that I've been counting; I have a life. Still, the time has not sped by. We revere the Met, we adore the Frick, but the Morgan is extra special, in a class of its own. No place looks like it, feels like it or has what it has: namely some of the most sensationally compact art treasures anywhere in this treasure-loving town.

Now the counting can stop. At 10 o'clock sharp tomorrow morning the Morgan will reopen. And all concerned parties — you, me and everyone else in New York — can dash over to see what's new and what's not.

What's new: a Madison Avenue entrance into Mr. Piano's splendid four-story glass and steel court, a sort of giant solarium with see-through elevators. Mr. Piano has also created two good-size second-floor galleries, and a neat strong-box of an enclosure, called the Cube, for the Morgan's famed reliquaries and altar vessels, medieval objects made with so much silver and gold that they seem to give off heat.

In addition the library's former reading room is now a gallery for drawings. And Pierpont Morgan's baronial private study, where shrewd minds and expensive cigars once gathered, has been refurbished and Lemon-Pledged. I'll skip over the auditorium, new dining room and expanded gift shop, but will note that the Morgan Library has acquired a semi-new name; we must now call it the Morgan Library and Museum.

Of course the Morgan has always basically been a museum. That brings me to what is not new: almost everything in the celebratory exhibition "Masterworks From the Morgan," which fills every gallery. Regular visitors will spot old favorites, like the ninth-century Lindau Gospels cover, encrusted with agates that glow like nightlights; Dürer's pen-and-ink Adam and Eve; Michelangelo's smudgy sketchlets of David and Goliath; and a good-as-new Gutenberg Bible. (The Morgan has three.)

But there are also things on view for the first time; a suave drawing by Juan Gris is one, a recent arrival. And some are fresh from a long vacation, as in the case of a set of 35 Milanese tarot cards hand-painted with allegorical figures. The work of a 15th-century master — Bonifacio Bembo seems likely — they haven't worked a room at the Morgan for 20 years, but they're certainly working one now.

Is there any logic to such eclecticism? Not really, though there is a binding thread, and it's proprietary. Much of what is on view — the Gris is an obvious exception — was bought and owned by the library's founder, J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), or his heirs.

Morgan was born in Hartford. He went to school in Europe, came to New York City as an apprentice banker at 20, inherited family money and made more on his own. A lot more: enough to help bail out the federal government twice. In 1895, the year he established J. P. Morgan & Company, he provided Washington with $62 million in gold to reverse an economic depression. To avert a similar crisis 1907 he scared up $25 million in an afternoon.

He was a prodigious personality in a high-rolling age. By the late 1800's New York was what London had been, the financial capital of the Western world. What it lacked was European-style culture, so its robber-baron citizens started buying some and bringing it home.

In short order we got the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera, and Carnegie Hall, along with Ignace Paderewski and Marcella Sembrich, as well as the occasional Raphael Madonna. It was around this time that Morgan, well into middle age, began buying art, in part from a sense of patriotic duty, in part because that was what grandees did; and in part, I suspect, to lift himself out of bouts of despondency, to which he was prone. His first wife died from tuberculosis four months after their marriage, and he never fully recovered from the loss.

He wasn't an especially picky shopper, at least at first. He bought a bit of everything — Egyptian sculpture, Renaissance paintings, Gothic tapestries — often from a distance in odd-lot bulk: art by the box, the peck, the estate, tossing what he didn't want and keeping what he did. In 1899 he picked up the tremendous Lindau book, outbidding the British Museum for it. With that his interest in medieval art, in the form of books and devotional objects, took hold.

Most of that art of princes and prelates was modest, even miniaturist, in scale. Over time Morgan gave his larger acquisitions away; thousands of objects went to the Met. But he kept the small-to-tiny stuff for himself. And the library that Charles Follen McKim designed in 1902 as an annex to the Morgan home was tailored to them: it's a cross between a bank vault and a wonder cabinet.

What does this passion for reverse monumentality, for gorgeous smallness, for the imperialism of the minuscule mean? Does it represent a psychological return to a childhood world of controlled fantasy? An exercise in connoisseurial trophyism? A tacit acknowledgment of the fragility of beauty? Freud had many thoughts on this subject; so did Shakespeare, Einstein and Emily Dickinson. So did Morgan, through the objects he held dearest, many of which the library still has.

In the Marble Hall, for example, at the former 36th Street entrance, you can see a sample of his prized collection of ancient Near Eastern cylinder seals. These incised stone sculptures are so tiny, you can't make visual sense of them until you make an impression, which as often as not turns out to be a panorama of muscle-bound gods and half-human beasts engaged in cosmic wars.

Of the European paintings that line Morgan's study, the very smallest — three Hans Memling panels — are by far the best. And the most spectacular of his medieval pieces, the Stavelot Triptych, a reliquary of the True Cross, is only a foot and a half high.

What this piece lacks in height, it makes up for in metaphoric depth and breadth. A miracle of metalwork and enameling, it is actually composed of three triptychs in different sizes, two of Byzantine origin contained within a larger Gothic one. Here Eastern and Western cultures meet. And as the reliquary draws your attention inward toward the two splinters of wood nested at its center, it also releases a spiritual ripple effect, as energy radiates from the relic, to its container, to the Cube, to the library, to the city and beyond.

Illuminated gospel books, some the size of a computer motherboard, work on a similar principle of worlds-within-worlds amplification. The Evangelist Luke, with a wrestler's neck and prehensile toes as portrayed in the Morgan's Reims gospel book, is a man, a saint and an embodiment of sacred history. The heavenly Jerusalem depicted in the earliest surviving complete copy of the "Commentary on the Apocalypse" by Beatus of Liébana, is seen in God's-eye aerial view. But with flattened walls that look like carpets and a checkerboard floor, it's an ornamental view of the End of Time, distilled to pocket size.

Finally, a similar sense of compressed vivacity comes through in the autograph manuscripts Morgan started buying even before he collected art. In one major purchase, he acquired all 40 volumes of Henry David Thoreau's Walden journal, along with the pine box Thoreau made to hold them. The two pages open for view in a new gallery devoted to literary and historical manuscripts are filled, top to bottom and edge to edge, with stream-of-consciousness words. In them, acute, you-are-there observation is inseparable from philosophical speculation. That's also the case with Galileo's doodly sketch of the satellites of Jupiter.

Since Morgan's death nearly a century ago, other handwritten material, less exalted though still notable, has found its way into the holdings. My favorite acquisition, which came to the library in 1969, is a cluster of poems and stories written in feverish, eye-punishing minuscule by the four teenage Brontë children: Bramwell squeezes 2,500 words on a page; Charlotte binds her stories into books an inch wide. And bringing the Morgan more or less into the present is a Bob Dylan souvenir: lyrics for "It Ain't Me, Babe," scratched on a sheet of hotel stationery. It dates from 1962 and arrived at the Morgan in 1999.

"Museums are cemeteries," Mr. Dylan once said in an interview, though his presence here suggests that the Morgan is, at least, a cemetery in active use: pages will be turned during the course of the show to avoid light damage. And the Morgan will be presenting more contemporary manuscript shows, including one of Dylan material, in coming months. Actually for the Morgan, the analogy I prefer is to a reliquary, once a carved casket of solid stone, now also a vessel of translucent crystal, thanks to Mr. Piano and Beyer Blinder Belle, the architectural firm he worked with. With reliquaries, size means nothing; the energy inside means all. It's a super-radiant energy; an entire city can be soaked in it, though, naturally, the closer you are to the source, the more you get. And transmission is instantaneous: no fuss, no worry, no wait.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

September 12th, 2006, 02:57 PM




September 13th, 2006, 02:12 AM
even the fawning sycomphants in the uglytectural (tm) mainstream press can't make the exterior look passable.

Pathetic. :( :mad: :eek:

September 13th, 2006, 07:47 AM
Yep, the entrance is that dull.

You thought maybe it would have some hidden virtue?

Don’t you remember the model?:

The model told it true:

Dullness extends inside. Rudimentary industrial detailing. God is in the… er... no, he’s not. They got the hole for the tree in the wrong place the first time. Had to cut out a section of floor and re-do it:

Big, empty and uninteresting. Recalls Johnson’s equally minimalist Boston Public Library addition: too little detail, too much space:

Self conscious people. Not much fun eating in the corner of an empty space. Not cosmopolitan, not chic, not inspiring. Makes you feel exposed, makes you wonder why you’re there:

You feel the same when sitting at the computer terminals:

Why are the computer terminals in a corridor? Isn’t that where you put them after you run out of space?

Oh, there’s the space…in the middle, where the exhibitionists hang out:

The two pavilions were once linked by a narrow and cryptic stone passage, with hinged bronze panels full of mystery and promise. Swept away by this banality:

Glass elevators, like in a Hyatt:

September 13th, 2006, 07:56 AM

Despite fin-de-siecle opulence in an annexed townhouse, restaurant manages to be sterile and funereal:

Consequently, also empty:

Lots to live up to:

… and it doesn’t:

And even where Morgan’s house seems original and untrammeled, a sharp eye can detect the modern renovator’s hand; he placed those duct register voids in the frieze exactly where a load transfer would take place between lintel and post, were the fanciful and romantic structural legend true. No Beaux-Arts architect would so blithely give away his own game; he would expect his viewers to [mis]read structural myths accurately:

But who these days can read a classical building? Piano can count on his audience to see it purely as a decorative pattern --in which case the interloping registers seem right at home where placed. McKim’s registers actually look like this, when they appear, and they do the architecture no harm:

The garden’s now a snapshot from a fixed vantage, and the snapshot’s dull:

The bathrooms are nice…

...and attendance is up.


September 13th, 2006, 12:05 PM
Piano was once architecture's bad boy, scandalizing the museum world in 1978 when the Pompidou Center in Paris turned museum-going into entertainment. (Piano designed it with London- based Richard Rogers.) Now he's the blue-chip choice for risk- averse museum boards. The Morgan is the latest variation...

Piano's increasingly familiar ingredients threaten to become formulaic for museums with more diffuse personalities, such as the Whitney, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Piano and Rogers: Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

September 13th, 2006, 01:24 PM
very interesting / well-documented critique, Ablarc.

Piano needs to retire...in 1970.

September 13th, 2006, 06:23 PM
Hmmm.... Glass "balustrade" with wood railing. Mmmkay.

September 14th, 2006, 07:43 AM
Hmmm.... Glass "balustrade" with wood railing. Mmmkay.
Oh, that's become the official style for guardrails, not just for museums but also for shopping malls, which are architecturally related. You'll find plenty of illustrations at MoMA here: http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=10642

You can blame the code's "baby's head" requirement for that one; it inadvertently outlawed most reasonable and visually attractive alternatives. You can expect to see a whole lot more glass balustrades until enough folks have pitched through them or complained of the vertigo they engender.

Then they'll come up with an equally idiotic alternative...

September 14th, 2006, 06:28 PM
...and attendance is up.

...the bottom line.

September 14th, 2006, 10:43 PM
...the bottom line.
That's right, but it's the result of change, not improvement; doing anything attracts attention, and there's been plenty of hype.

Reminds me of that famous experiment: Production sluggish on the assembly line, so expert called in. "Turn up the lights," he declared. So they did, and production shot up. After a while it flattened, then declined. Called back the expert. "Now turn down the lights," he intoned. They did, and production shot up.

September 15th, 2006, 01:19 AM
How do you design such ugliness?

September 15th, 2006, 07:31 AM
How do you design such ugliness?
Well, you start by consulting the Bauhaus...

October 18th, 2006, 08:10 PM

A Power Lunch Fit for a Robber Baron

Published: October 18, 2006

THE new dining room at the Morgan Library and Museum is a tutorial in the eternal pleasures of capitalism: marble fireplaces, heavy silver and really rich cream sauces.

For Tycoon Tastes The Morgan Dining Room offers a menu designed to suit its formal Gilded-Age setting.

It’s also one of New York’s more eccentric fine-dining restaurants, and probably the best museum canteen in New York City. This is an increasingly competitive field, now that The Modern has opened in the new Museum of Modern Art and it is possible to get a surprisingly good panino in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But there’s no institution that joins a menu and a museum as seamlessly. The food served in the dining room that the Morgan family used in the early 20th century is brightly flavored enough to please modern palates but also, with touches like chicken fricassee, lobster salad and shrimp cocktail, telegraphs old-school opulence.

This new-old luxury mirrors what has been done to transform the museum itself, which reopened in April after a renovation that joined the Gilded-Age sprawl of J. Pierpont Morgan’s original brownstone mansion to a glass center tower designed by the Italian modernist Renzo Piano. When going to the Dining Room, you bypass the museum’s entrance fee but still get to bask in the sunlight streaming in through its 50-foot walls of glass, and inhale the heady scent of expensive new architecture. (To see J.P. Morgan’s ornate library or one of the museum’s three Gutenberg Bibles, though, you will have to cough up $12.) The museum’s cafe, open only to museum visitors, squats on the floor of the central atrium and serves a more generic menu.

The formal dining room is open only when the museum is open, so lunch is served every day, but dinner only on Friday nights — and then only until 9 p.m., when warning gongs ring and security guards begin sweeping through to nudge you out. “They do have to protect the Gutenbergs,” said our waiter last Friday night, as he reassured us that there was time for coffee. “They don’t really care about dessert.” For many New Yorkers, its abbreviated business hours will knock the Morgan Dining Room out of the running as a serious restaurant, but it offers compensatory pleasures.

The room is not always one of them. It is undeniably cramped, with about 40 seats that occasionally have to squeeze in large parties of Morgan V.I.P.’s — and a bit too bright, with pristine white moldings, track lighting, and one glass wall. All that saves the room from looking like a very elegant operating theater are its modern orange-upholstered loveseats, tall sprays of flowers, and warm wood floors.

But you will find many cosseting antique details on the table, from the menu’s typeface to the vial of simple syrup that comes with every glass of iced tea. Several wines are available by the glass or the quartino, a pleasantly indulgent eight-ounce carafe; nonalcoholic options include a bittersweet mix of tangerine juice and tonic water and a very upscale raspberry lime rickey with only a hint of sweetness. The restaurant’s chewy olive-salt rolls are New York’s most-improved soft pretzel.

Also beyond reproach, over the course of six meals, was the restaurant’s green salad. Restaurants often present this as a sop to timid diners, and it’s always depressing to see the same mesclun greens you have at home come out of a restaurant kitchen. But here, the chef Charlene Shade uses organic lettuces — full-grown leaves with fresh flavor, not long-refrigerated micro specimens — and the result is soft and sprightly, the nicest restaurant salad I’ve had in years. A similar attention to detail is evident in most of the kitchen’s vegetables, both in their sourcing and in their cooking. For example, the firm-tender green squash that sits under a fricassee of chicken; the pungent Swiss chard that tops a savory tart of ricotta cheese and slow-roasted cherry tomatoes; and a charred heart of romaine lettuce, split and seared brown on the cut face, that works well alongside a filet mignon and more of those sweet-sharp cherry tomatoes.

Cooked lettuce is one of Ms. Shade’s borrowings from menus of the early 20th century, which come off here as surprising and often tasty innovations. Those of us who spend a lot of time trolling in new restaurants aren’t often served old-fashioned cream sauces like these, one infused with mushroom flavor and drizzled around moist roasted organic chicken, another brightened with lemon and poured over long, floppy twists of pasta. I had almost forgotten how delicious they can be. And more modern dishes, like mussels in a parsley broth, seared striped bass over butternut risotto, and salmon with poached baby vegetables, are just as successful.

Dessert is less of a period piece. Ms. Shade, having worked in the kitchens of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, has mastered the technique for his molten chocolate cake, although she doesn’t improve it by adding trimmings like ice cream and blackberries. While I appreciate an organic chicken, I have never before been presented with an organic cookie plate: fortunately, it had other virtues as well, like warm gingersnaps and buttery nut shortbreads. The fruit cobbler, which changes seasonally but is always good, is more of a crisp, with a rumpled, crunchy top.

I wanted to love that beef Wellington — with foie gras, mushrooms, puff pastry and beef tenderloin, how bad could it be? But some dishes, like some musicals, should never be revived. This one, in addition to being overcooked the night I tried it, was drowned in a classic brown sauce that suffered from all the classic flaws: too salty, too meaty, just too...brown. Better to go retro with lobster salad, made of unfailingly sweet and moist claw meat and slices of avocado and grapefruit — a dish that has a whiff of country-club cuisine, but composed here with a play of flavors that keeps it from being just blandly elegant.

And a bargain at $21; you no longer have to be a robber baron to eat like one.

The Morgan Dining Room


225 Madison Avenue (36th Street), (212) 683-2130, www.themorgan.org/visit/dining.asp

ATMOSPHERE The room, secluded from the museum’s public spaces, is too bright and crowded but pristine white walls, a marble fireplace, and some warm modern touches combine pleasantly. The staff is smoothly professional.

SOUND LEVEL Can be raucous when the restaurant is full, as it usually is during peak lunch hours. Tables around the perimeter are quieter.

RECOMMENDED DISHES Green salad, beet salad, ricotta and Swiss chard tart, mussels, striped bass on squash risotto, salmon with baby carrots and parsnips, lobster salad, fruit cobbler, cookie plate.

WINE LIST Brief, but chosen to be food-friendly. Also, some 19th-century cocktails and nonalcoholic specialties.

PRICE RANGE Appetizers, $6 to $12; entrees, $15 to $28; desserts, $5 to $7

HOURS Lunch, Tuesday to Friday, 12 to 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, Friday only, 5 to 9 p.m.

RESERVATIONS Accepted up to 30 days in advance.

CREDIT CARDS All major cards.



(None) Poor to satisfactory

* Good

** Very good

*** Excellent

**** Extraordinary

Ratings reflect the reviewer’s reaction to food, ambience and service, with price taken into consideration. Menu listings and prices are subject to change.

Frank Bruni is on vacation.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

October 19th, 2006, 02:27 AM
You know, as crap as the new addition is, next time I'm in NYC I'll visit the OLD part of the building and try the dining room. thanks for the post, dude.

November 8th, 2006, 06:10 AM
No offense, Ablarc, but you couldn't make a place look dull if your career depended on it. You have succeeded in depicting an interior renovaton so freaky that it fascinates me.

(Love the prison bars between the people and the garden. Can't be too careful about those attack plants.)

November 8th, 2006, 12:00 PM
No offense, Ablarc, but you couldn't make a place look dull if your career depended on it.
Backhand? ;)

Btw, my career does depend on it; I'm asked to make places look dull all the time. Most folks want that, so...

November 8th, 2006, 12:09 PM
Backhand? ;)

... I'm asked to make places look dull all the time. Most folks want that, so...


Why would that be?

November 8th, 2006, 12:23 PM

Why would that be?
Mostly it's because good-looking architecture is associated in people's minds with extravagance. It's a form of puritanism. Two anecdotes:

I once designed a state university building and found strategies for getting some pizzazz into it without much bumping the cost. The building came in 10% under the budget allocated for it. There was general elation, but it was short-lived. Turns out the state had an architectural pizzazz ombundsman, and he eliminated 100% of the building's nice features. When asked why --since the building was under budget-- he replied that his job was to make sure the taxpayer didn't get the impression that the state was being extravagant.

Another time I designed a monumental stair for a church building. The stair was curved because that configuration fit the allocated space and structure in an efficient manner (while delivering a little glamour). The building committee feared it might strike the congregation as extravagant, so I was made to square it off. That necessitated a structural change that actually increased the cost.

November 8th, 2006, 12:33 PM
... puritanism.

Aha ... Ever-present in the USA (and beyond), since day one.

November 8th, 2006, 01:12 PM
Mostly it's because good-looking architecture is associated in people's minds with extravagance. It's a form of puritanism. Two anecdotes:

I once designed a state university building and found strategies for getting some pizzazz into it without much bumping the cost. The building came in 10% under the budget allocated for it. There was general elation, but it was short-lived. Turns out the state had an architectural pizzazz ombundsman, and he eliminated 100% of the building's nice features. When asked why --since the building was under budget-- he replied that his job was to make sure the taxpayer didn't get the impression that the state was being extravagant.

Another time I designed a monumental stair for a church building. The stair was curved because that configuration fit the allocated space and structure in an efficient manner (while delivering a little glamour). The building committee feared it might strike the congregation as extravagant, so I was made to square it off. That necessitated a structural change that actually increased the cost.

Are people afraid to explain stuff?

I really don't think I could handle that depth of stupidity.

Do you have 'happy ending story' to balance that out?

November 8th, 2006, 01:18 PM
The customer is always right.

November 8th, 2006, 01:35 PM
The building committee feared it might strike the congregation as extravagant, so I was made to square it off.

Extravagance? In a church? No, those two have never gone together...

November 8th, 2006, 01:37 PM
Mostly it's because good-looking architecture is associated in people's minds with extravagance. It's a form of puritanism. Two anecdotes:

I once designed a state university building and found strategies for getting some pizzazz into it without much bumping the cost. The building came in 10% under the budget allocated for it. There was general elation, but it was short-lived. Turns out the state had an architectural pizzazz ombundsman, and he eliminated 100% of the building's nice features. When asked why --since the building was under budget-- he replied that his job was to make sure the taxpayer didn't get the impression that the state was being extravagant.

Another time I designed a monumental stair for a church building. The stair was curved because that configuration fit the allocated space and structure in an efficient manner (while delivering a little glamour). The building committee feared it might strike the congregation as extravagant, so I was made to square it off. That necessitated a structural change that actually increased the cost.
Quite fascinating. So the marketing axiom is true: Perception is Reality.

November 8th, 2006, 01:52 PM
Extravagance? In a church? No, those two have never gone together...
Sensitive to the idolatrous, Catholic past, some churches make a fetish out of humble architecture. I've designed churches that look like they fix cars inside.

November 8th, 2006, 02:25 PM
I've always regarded those to mainly serve the Protestant factions. But now it's spreading to Catholicism? What's next to go - the golden chalices and tabernacles?

November 8th, 2006, 02:51 PM
No, no, it's the Protestants who are sensitive to the Catholics' excesses; they've felt obligated since Martin Luther.

The Catholics? They hire Richard Meier.

November 8th, 2006, 04:35 PM
I know about the Protestants. For some reason, I thought you were designing a Catholic Church, which I readily associate with extravagance. I don't know; maybe I just automatically think "Catholic" when I hear "church".

November 8th, 2006, 04:42 PM
For some reason, I thought you were designing a Catholic Church...
I wish...! But for some reason they never come around.

The evangelicals are all puritans. Occasionally I get a black church that wants something fancy. Trouble is, they already know what it is; they come by with photographs from newsletters.

November 8th, 2006, 04:50 PM
So the marketing axiom is true: Perception is Reality.
Perception is the gateway through which reality enters our consciousness. Have you read Huxley's "Doors of Perception"?

November 9th, 2006, 02:38 AM
c'mon Abalrc, don't be so coy, show us one of your churches!!!!

November 9th, 2006, 05:14 AM
Richard Meier... built a Civic Center in San Jose, California that's uglier than ten miles of dirt road. Of course, the San Jose folks are technically to blame for hiring the firm. But a certain amount blame has to go to the firm; they should have warned the natives, who were so insular and naiive that they had no conception as to how out-of-scale that structure could look on their semi-rural land.

I think that many of them got used to the building, and then started liking it, when the real estate value of their property went up.

("Credentials": I owned a cottage in San Jose for 2 years.)

c'mon Abalrc, don't be so coy, show us one of your churches!!!!
Is he being coy, or internet-savvy? Any lunatic out there could ID the church, find out who the architect is, and learn Ablarc's real name. I don't know what happens after that... :o

November 9th, 2006, 08:05 AM
Perception is the gateway through which reality enters our consciousness. Have you read Huxley's "Doors of Perception"?
I have not, but it looks somewhat interesting. I've reserved it at the library, I'll pick it up next week. The summary recalled Carlos Castaneda's books to me.

November 9th, 2006, 08:08 AM
The summary recalled Carlos Castaneda's books to me.
Mescaline has a way of making folks see things a certain way.

October 29th, 2010, 09:57 AM
The Architect Charles McKim, Designer of the Morgan Library


A rendering of the Morgan Library, circa 1906.

THIS weekend the Morgan Library and Museum (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/m/morgan_library/index.html?inline=nyt-org) marks the opening of its refurbished centerpiece, J. P. Morgan’s severe, jewel-like library of 1906, one of the signature works of the architect Charles McKim. And on Tuesday Knopf released “Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White: Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class in America’s Gilded Age," by Mosette Broderick. This 581-page history serves as the only modern work to examine the career of the reflective, often depressed McKim, perennially in the shadow of his flamboyant and equally troubled partner, Stanford White (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/w/stanford_white/index.html?inline=nyt-per).

Charles Follen McKim was born in 1847 into a Pennsylvania family that was principled, if not privileged. His father, Miller McKim, made a living as a professional abolitionist. In 1849 he arranged to receive a large crate that contained the escaped slave Henry Brown, soon known as Box Brown, who shipped himself from Virginia to freedom.

Professor Broderick, the director of Urban Design and Architecture Studies at New York University, combed diaries, letters and bill books to reveal the personal side of McKim, who met White in the office of H. H. Richardson in the 1870s. Raised in the Quaker tradition, he used thee and thou into early manhood. An expert skater, he had bright, clear blue eyes, was always perfectly dressed and popular with others. Ambidextrous, he could write backward, almost never cursed, and loved opera and ice cream.

In 1879, after several years of practice, he formed a partnership with White and William R. Mead. They quickly blazed white-hot in the heavens of American architecture, McKim in particular designing big country houses in Elberon, N.J., and Newport, R.I., as well as related projects like the Newport Casino and the huge, arched Narragansett Casino, also in Rhode Island.

By the early 1890s the firm had designed such works as Madison Square Garden, the Century Association and the Harvard Club, all in New York City, and a string of buildings for the New York Life Insurance company nationwide.

But McKim suffered bouts of depression, some so bad he couldn’t work, Professor Broderick says. It started in 1878, even before the firm was established, when his wife of four years, Annie, filed for divorce, alleging “unnatural acts against the bounds of Christian behavior,” according to the diary of an acquaintance. Professor Broderick surmises this might have been an allusion to homosexuality. McKim’s wife won sole custody of their daughter and changed the girl’s last name; McKim did not see the child again for two decades. It “took his youth away,” Professor Broderick writes.

He married again in 1885. His second wife, Julia, and their child died a year and a half later.

His partnership with White was one of opposites. White typically burst into the office and dashed off some hasty sketches, leaving the details for others. But McKim painstakingly examined historical precedents, returning again and again to plates of classical buildings. McKim had little exposure to the great monuments of Europe. He did not see Rome until 1885. Professor Broderick says this was typical: our great classicists often worked secondhand.

McKim was a perfectionist, known to spend an hour revising a telegram that was in the end only 10 words long; he climbed up on the roof of the casino in Narragansett with a crowbar to dislocate shingles to give it an aged look.

In a 1910 appreciation, the art critic Royal Cortissoz recalled that a contractor for the Boston Public Library had supplied some expensive marble that did not conform to the specification. “The contractor argued at tremendous length and almost wept,” Cortissoz wrote, “but McKim was harder than the Numidian itself.” The architect refused the marble.

In 1899 some measure of relief came into his life: he was reconciled with his daughter, Margaret. Her mother never spoke to her again. In 1902 two very big commissions came to him: the giant Pennsylvania Station, finished in 1910, and Morgan’s exquisite little library, completed in 1906.

Morgan had worked with White on Madison Square Garden as an investor, and on the Metropolitan Club, of which he was a founder, and evidently felt that the ultrasober McKim was the best man for the job. Indeed, White had descended into bizarre behavior, with incessant sexual liaisons and wild overspending; he was in debt for $1 million by 1905, a year before his murder.

McKim never argued with clients, instead politely but persistently revisiting suggestions that had already been vetoed, and usually getting his way. Thus in 1904 he sent this telegram to Morgan: “Recognizing great merit of Chateau D’arnay chimney piece we should strongly recommend consistent Italian marble example in building of Italian Renaissance design.” It appears that Morgan conceded.

The library is a typical McKim commission — studied, reserved, archaeological, quite distinct from White’s frothy exuberance. Morgan made himself at home there, repairing often to his great, nearly cubic study, where he would smoke cigars, play solitaire and peruse his collection. According to Jean Strouse (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/jean_strouse/index.html?inline=nyt-per)’s 1999 biography, “Morgan: American Financier,” he went to his Wall Street office less and less often, and his partners began to refer to the library as “the Up-Town Branch.”

McKim had another breakdown in 1908, his despair perhaps deepened by the emergence of the skyscraper: “The skyline of New York grows daily more hideous,” he wrote to Stanford White’s son, Lawrence, in 1909. McKim died later that year, aged 63, and Morgan was one of his pallbearers.

Professor Broderick has devoted three decades of research to her rich, dense book. In “Triumvirate” the reader has a sense of the tragedy of McKim’s great talents amid nearly constant psychological pain, which seems to be a frequent traveler with artistic genius.