The Philadelphia Art Museum acquires a room from Armajani
While designing the room, Armajani discovered that Louis Kahn had taken art lessons at Fleisher as a child in the 1910s, so he made the room a tribute to the renowned architect, engraving one of his designs on yellow glass in the transom of the door.
The ceiling cornice is crowned with a quote from Kahn: “Schools began with a man under a tree who did not know he was a teacher, sharing his realization with a few others who did not know they were students. “
The veneration of the ceiling for architecture is reflected in the floor. The wooden planks are painted black, inlaid with the outline of a large rectangle. It contains a passage from Walt Whitman’s poem “A Song of the Rolling Earth”.
When the materials are all prepared and ready, the architects should appear.
I swear to you that the architects will appear without fail,
I swear to you that they will understand you and justify you,
The greatest of them will be the one who knows you best,
And encloses everything and is faithful to everything,
He and the others will not forget you, they will see that you
are not one iota less than them,
You will be fully glorified in them.
“The creation of these halls was really about the democratic potential of architecture,” Sroka said. “The things that would happen and be shared were much more important to him than the actual materials of the piece itself.”
But when O’Leary arrived at Fleisher a year ago for her first day as acting director, she saw that the room was not being used as Armajani had expected. It was stuffed with boxes; cleaning supplies were piled on the benches.
“I realized how important this piece was and what respect it should inspire,” she said. “I said, ‘No more supplies, no more storage in this room. It turns off. I don’t care where it goes, but this piece really needs to be honored. It is a very special, unique place.
The Fleisher Art Memorial had changed since Armajani had designed the space: its art classes and programs for children and adults had grown, with many more people using the space. What was supposed to be a contemplation room had become part hallway to the upstairs office and classroom spaces, and part storage overflow.
By the time O’Leary arrived, talks with the art museum and Armajani’s widow were already underway to donate the hall to the museum. Before all its elements were removed, the space was meticulously documented inch by inch. Even small pieces of the walls and ceiling will be cut out and removed, to archive the color.
Sroka said some objects, like the benches, could be faithfully reconstructed if needed, but other elements like the finishing work with quotes in the floor and ceiling would be difficult or impossible to replicate accurately.
“It’s a challenge for us as an institution which traditionally is an institution of objects, to then say that it’s not about the object itself but about being able to preserve the energy of this room,” she said.
This will not be the first room acquired by the Art Museum. It already has an entire Japanese teahouse permanently installed in its galleries, an Indian temple, stone architectural elements of a Gothic cathedral, and a fireplace and mantle carved by Pennsylvania carpenter Wharton Esherick, among others. .
The next step for the elements of the room will be the curatorial department of the Art Museum to ensure that they are stable. Sroka said the museum does not yet know what will ultimately happen to Armajani’s lecture hall.
Fleisher’s now-empty space will likely become a kitchen, according to O’Leary. With many immigrant families in the community communing over their native foods and an adjacent historic shrine that can be rented as event space, O’Leary said a full-service kitchen would better serve Fleisher’s mission.