Artist Alexander Calder has inspired a new exhibition space in downtown Philadelphia. Calder Gardens, situated on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, encompasses both a building by Swiss architecture practice Herzog & de Meuron and gardens by Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf.

An influx of natural light unites the elements of the just-unveiled design, which connects the outdoors and indoors with easy fluidity. Open, spacious galleries will become a showcase for works curated by New York’s Calder Foundation, from mobiles to sculptures and paintings. The artworks, installed throughout the interior and exterior spaces, respond to the seasons in a geometric celebration of nature.

Render of gallery by Herzog & de Meuron at Calder Gardens, Philadelphia, with gardens outside by Piet Oudolf
Calder Gardens, Highway and Tall Gallery © Herzog & de Meuron. All artworks by Alexander Calder © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

‘Our intention for Calder Gardens is not only to create the ideal environment for the public to encounter my grandfather’s work but also to elevate personal contemplation and reflection,’ says Calder Foundation president Alexander SC Rower. ‘Calder’s role as a pioneer of experiential art is essential to his legacy. For viewers who open themselves up to the possibilities of his mobiles and stabiles, the unexpected takes root. His objects continuously unfold in real time.’

Herzog & de Meuron builds on Calder’s celebration of the familiar in a design that eschews building above ground, preferring to sculpt new spaces in the ground in a conceptual rethink of traditional architectural forms. ‘We were looking for space to present Calder’s work in a new and unprecedented way,’ says Jacques Herzog, founding partner along with Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron. ‘That space in the making eventually grew into a whole sequence of different galleries and also rather unexpected spaces, niches and gardens; such as the apse and the quasi-galleries or open plan gallery, the sunken or vestige gardens.’

Render of Piet Oudolf garden with Alexander Calder artwork
Calder Gardens, Sunken Garden © Herzog & de Meuron. All artworks by Alexander Calder © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The space is set to become a tranquil foil for the naturalistic beauty of Piet Oudolf’s garden, the antithesis of the Parkway’s manicured spaces. ‘I see my gardens as living sculptures where change is constant,’ Oudolf says. ‘The site is like a canvas to work on, and each plant has a personality that must work with the others. The composition of the garden is variable and will evolve through the seasons. For Calder Gardens, the horticultural design must also serve the works of art. My hope is that people will take the time to stand still and think here, to fully experience these elements together and have an emotional reaction that stays with them long after their visit. It’s not about what you see, but what you sense.’

The gardens will make natural surroundings for the reflective metal-clad building, which is set to be nestled unobtrusively in the landscape. Adds Herzog: ‘Not only galleries in the classical sense, but every corner and angle, every stair and corridor should be offering itself up as a place to put art.’ §

Render of gallery space at Calder Gardens, Philiadelphia, by Herzog & De Meuron
Render of Calder Gardens, by Herzog & De Meuron and Piet Oudolf
Top, Calder Gardens, Open Plan Gallery. All artworks by Alexander Calder © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Bottom, Calder Gardens, Parkway Garden, © Herzog & de Meuron