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Temple University’s Tyler School of Art is currently ranked in the top 15 art schools in the country. It’s about to make the move from its suburban setting in Elkins Park to join the rest of the Temple Campus in North Philadelphia. From WHYY’s Arts and Culture desk, Alex Schmidt took a tour of the new facility with the architect. Here is a a slideshow of Alex’s tour. Read the story below.
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Carlos Jimenez, the architect of the new Tyler School of Art, only makes it out to Philadelphia from his home in Texas once a month to check on the progress of his building. In the few days he spends on site, he scrutinizes every detail of the construction.
“It looks like they’re making good progress here,” he says, pointing to one of several areas that is getting closer to completion in anticipation of the school’s mid-fall opening.
Jimenez is an award-winning architect who is on the faculty of Rice University. He has built other art schools and museums but at 250,000 square feet, Tyler is by far the largest. It accommodates several sub-departments – photography, graphics, ceramics, printing, metal, fiber, painting and drawing, sculpture, and glass blowing. Jimenez’s challenge was to connect all of those into one whole, within a strict space, and on a tight budget.
“It has been a rewarding job but also a difficult job. You want to do lots of things and there are always lots of limits. The difficult thing is how to balance all those aspects of a job that by nature is highly complex,” he explains.
According to the construction schedule, there are only two months left until the art school is set to be completed.
The entrance, which will be a staircase flanked by sloping lawns, is still a mountain of dirt. But inside you can start to see what a Tyler student will experience.
Continuing the tour, Jimenez explains the idea behind the entrance.
“We are now in the main lobby. The idea that everybody comes to this passageway, and you right away are encountering this very dramatic circulation point,” he says.
An even more dramatic passageway with 30-foot high ceilings leads out from the lobby and into the school. On one side of this hall is a wall of enormous windows looking out on what will be the largest green space on Temple’s campus. Opposite the windows, there are wide, rectangular columns painted a bright green.
“You know color is a way of enlarging the limit of a budget because what i mean by that is you still have to paint these walls, but it doesn’t have to be white. For instance, these are mechanical shafts. All of these green areas have functions that are particular objective,” Jimenez says as he points out the columns.
Here on the ground floor are the most heavy duty studios — glass blowing and sculpture. At the end of the long passageway, you ascend a staircase to the second floor — for graphics, metals, fiber and printing. Jimenez calls the very top floor, which is the space for drawing and painting, the attic. You can see the shape of the sloping angle of the roof, as you would in a house’s attic. Only this attic has floor to ceiling windows looking out on a sprawling city view. North Philadelphia looks both urban and bucolic from up here, with trees peeking out between the buildings.
“This is the longest north elevation on the entire campus. And the purpose of that was that they get this even light,” he says, “all the studios face north. If you place them on the east, you have dead light in the afternoon. On the west you have the opposite.”
One of the biggest challenges for Jimenez has been creating a building that is inspirational to artists without over-asserting its own design. Down on the lower ground level, where the photography studios are, we came across a strange, acutely angled corner. I asked Jimenez what would go in it.
“The question you raise is an interesting one, because it’s for them to take over,” he answers.
“It’s for the artist to come up with the next stage of the architecture. If I were an artist and I come in here and I see that, then I would do something with that wall. The architecture is there for you to participate in, or to ignore if you want to. That’s sort of what i always hoped to achieve with this building.”
Faculty will start moving into the new building in October. Students will start using it – or not using it – in January.