Dezeen Magazine

Artjail in Philadelphia

Artjail is a satirical proposal for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia that involves moving the famous art collection to a new building in the centre of the city and combining it with a youth prison and gambling facilities.


The proposal is a response to ongoing controversy about the Barnes Foundation's plans to move the collection from the mansion of tycoon and art collector Albert C Barnes in the suburb of Merion to the city centre.


The Barnes Foundation has one of the world's best collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern European paintings and is renowned for its "extensive holdings by Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Renoir and Modigliani".


Barnes, who built the French-style mansion in 1925 to house his collection, believed that exposure to art could lift the human spirit and the Artjail project claims to be in tune with Barnes' wishes by installing cells in galleries so juvenile offenders can gain an understanding of art.


Artjail's features include a terrace restaurant overlooking a rooftop prison garden, allowing diners to watch inmates at work.


The website contains a slide-show tour of the proposed new building, from which these images are taken.


Here is Artjail's press release:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 2, 2007

Gambling in the galleries? Controversial building plan revealed for Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation.


No stranger to controversy, since it's founding in the Philadelphia suburbs in 1922 the Barnes Foundation has been embroiled in one sort of conflict or another for most of it's history, often thanks to the eccentricities of founder Albert C. Barnes. The unusual plan unveiled this week for a new Barnes building, which brings giant televisions, slot machines, and elaborately costumed employees to Philadelphia's Museum Row will do little to still those troubled waters.

One of the proposal's many radical elements is it's inclusion of Philadelphia's juvenile detention hall The Youth Study Center within the same structure as the Barnes Foundation's multi-billion dollar art collection; earlier plans had called for a relocation of the Youth Study Center to West Philadelphia.

The Website for the proposed institution speaks of "a more innovative approach which hews closer to the educational intent of ... Dr. Albert C. Barnes, combining these two institutions with similar missions into one large structure with facilities that are physically separate but visually mingled; the imprisoned children are edified, as Doctor Barnes intended, by the presence of great art, while Foundation visitors get a rare glimpse of the education of some of our culture's most under-privileged young people".

The plan would also integrate new for-profit elements into the scheme, including a Barnes-themed slot machine parlor called The ArtSlots, and a home shopping channel, The Fine Art Television Network which would offer Barnes-branded consumer goods on a cable TV channel, in a retail store in the new complex and in displays within the Barnes Collection galleries, mixing the goods with the art in what the Website describes as "Dr Barnes' famous "groupings" updated for the 21st Century".

The large structure, which echoes the massing and classical style of nearby buildings, uses an image of the original Barnes Foundation building as a repeated design element on it's Parkway facade. The whole structure is sheathed in a "media-skin" which allows the building's other sides to display moving and still images. Two prominent sections of the structure are shaped like six-story-tall CRT television monitors and are fronted with giant flat-screen displays which will broadcast audio/video media streams to the Parkway area.

In keeping with the vogue for sustainability, sections of the media-skin act as solar collectors and the building features a 2.5-acre/1-hectare green-roof urban farm which will be worked by the inmates of the detention center in "authentic chain-gang-style" costumes and overlooked by a rooftop restaurant "The New Plantation Cafe".

Detailed plans for the new complex are available online at: