The Kimbell Art Museum designed by architect Louis Kahn is one of the most celebrated masterpieces of modern architecture, despite nearly 50 years since its construction; it still holds its profound presence and monumental statement. Kahn carefully selected a pallet of natural materials that withstood the test of time (concrete, travertine, lead) and used wood only in interior finished and cabinets. The concrete vaults were pre-stressed using steel tendons embedded in the reinforcing since Kahn decided to make a cut at the highest point of the vault to bring in natural daylight. It is difficult to imagine the Kimbell Art Museum with materials other than what Kahn put together, but as concrete and steel were the materials of the 20th century, wood is on the premise of becoming the material of the 21st century. Today, engineered solid timber construction is being utilized around the world by modern masters of architecture such as Kengo Kuma and Shiguru Ban, and pre-stressed wood systems are being explored in new forms.
The new pavilion addition to Kimbell Art Museum opened in 2013 by architect Renzo Piano utilized engineered glue-laminated beams. Twenty-nine pairs of wood roof beams, weighing a total of 435 tons, span the interior and extend to the exterior beneath the overhanging canopy. In addition to providing support for the roof system, the 100-foot-long beams of laminated Douglas fir add visual weight and warmth within largely continuous, changeable, and airy interiors.
We re-imagined the Kimbell Art Museum in Eastern White Pine wood construction systems. Primarily in the making of the pre-stressed Lamella vault construction and in the 5 ply solid Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) walls. We suggest keeping the concrete framework as it is and use the CLT Eastern White Pine walls (Finish Grade) as infill replacing the travertine. The Lamella roof system is assembled from 2X8” ribs (Premium Grade) Eastern White Pine and covered by a tonged and groove structural decking system also from Eastern White Pine (Structural grade). Typical insulation and roofing lead materials are installed as finish roofing. The Lamella ribs intersect at the highest point of the vaults where a “diamond” shaped skylights are aligned to allow for daylight to enter and reflected on the interior of the vaults, just as Kahn intended.
By reimaging Kimbell Art Museum in Eastern White Pine, we emphasized its unique grain and rich, warm, golden color, which are signature elements of Eastern White Pine. The Kimbell as a modern marvel masterpiece is now a showcase of the sustainability features of wood construction.