Learning to Look: Inside-Outside Architecture

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Kimbell Kids




Hi, friends! Why do you think buildings are important? Why do humans need them? Imagine some of your favorite buildings. What makes them similar or different? At the Kimbell Art Museum, you will visit two buildings that are named after the architects who designed them: Louis I. Kahn and Renzo Piano. People come from all over the world to see both buildings, as well as the water fountains, outdoor sculpture, and green spaces. We hope that you enjoy exploring what makes them special.

In This Issue Exploring Materials Explore the strong, beautiful materials used to construct both buildings.

I Spy Shapes The building blocks of architecture come in all shapes and sizes.

Light Learn about how sunlight works inside the museum.

Details Find your favorite, unique details!

New Words Architect

A person who plans, designs, and oversees the construction of buildings


A curved shape created by a point on a circle that rolls on a straight line without slipping


A long piece of wood or sturdy material that spans or overhangs space in a building, often supporting the roof


A piece of glass, metal, or other material that reflects light in a specific direction


The feel and look of a surface or material

Two Buildings, One Museum What do you love to do at the art museum? The Kimbell’s two buildings provide spaces for different activities. You can look at art in the galleries, eat lunch in the café, watch a film in the auditorium, get creative in the studios, buy a book in the shop, or play outside on the lawn. How do these spaces make you feel?

Exploring Materials Architects choose materials that are strong enough to last for a very long time. They also use materials that look beautiful together. Describe the different colors and textures you notice around the Kimbell buildings.

CONCRETE is one of the oldest man-made building materials in the world. Its main ingredients are sand, gravel, and water. Both Kimbell architects experimented with different concrete mixtures to get the exact look they wanted. In the Kahn Building, soft gray concrete shimmers with reflected natural sunlight. Renzo Piano added special ingredients to create walls that feel as smooth as satin. What might you add to the concrete for your building?

TRAVERTINE is a type of limestone with a delicate “Swiss cheese” texture. Architect Louis I. Kahn loved its uneven patterns and connections to ancient Rome and Greece. The Kahn Building is covered with over one million pounds of travertine brought over from Italy on large ships. Kahn called travertine “wallpaper” because it does not support any weight in this building.

GLASS walls and windows provide beautiful views that connect the museum’s indoor and outdoor spaces. The architects also made sure that the artworks would be protected from the sun’s powerful rays. The Piano Pavilion’s roof has glass panels with metal shutters that open and close; they also have special cells that collect the sun’s energy for electricity! Explore the Kahn Building to count different glass window shapes.

WOOD appears on the floors of both buildings, and white oak is also used for cabinets and walls in the Kahn Building. Look up in the Piano Pavilion to see pairs of massive wooden beams that support the glass roof. Each beam is over 100 feet long and weighs 30,000 pounds! They are made up of smaller pieces of wood from Douglas Fir trees that were glued and pressed together to become very strong.

Draw and Describe Look for different textures in and around our buildings. Record some of your findings in the boxes below.

Bumpy tree bark

Smooth concrete

I Spy Shapes Shapes are the building blocks of architecture. Squares, rectangles, triangles, and arches organize spaces and provide strength and stability for the structure. How many different shapes can you find? Try making other kinds of shapes with your hands, arms, or your entire body! Work with a friend to create larger shapes.

Fun Fact: Look up in the Kahn Building to see a very special curved shape called a CYCLOID. Architect Louis I. Kahn chose the cycloid for the museum’s ceiling to create warm, welcoming spaces. It is also one of nature’s strongest shapes, like an egg shell. Trace the curved outline of the cycloid with your finger.

Natural Light Strong daylight can damage and fade artworks. Louis I. Kahn and Renzo Piano both developed creative solutions that allow pleasant natural light into museum spaces without harming artworks. How did they do it?

Look up in the Kahn Building to see metal LIGHT REFLECTORS attached at the top of the curved cycloid. Above them, do you also see the long, narrow skylight running the entire length of the 100-foot-long room? The reflectors are aluminum screens with millions of tiny holes that filter sunlight into the room. The metal also reflects light on the curved concrete to create a soft, silvery glow.

In the Piano Pavilion, metal shutters attached to the glass panels of the roof can be adjusted to control the sunlight entering the building. See the thin FABRIC SCRIMS stretched between pairs of wooden beams in the galleries? This creates a gentle light that is ideal for looking at art. Find and explore the West Gallery, designed for artworks that need especially low light levels.

Details Explore each building to discover details that show the architects’ attention to craftsmanship.

Both staircases in the Kahn Building have FOLDED METAL HANDRAILS that almost look like abstract sculptures. The steel material was buffed with pecan shells so that it glows softly but is not too shiny.

Renzo Piano designed CANTED, OR SLANTED, WALLS for two sets of stairways—inside and outside the building. Inside the Piano Pavilion, take the stairs or elevator down to the lower level, where you will find another canted wall outside at the back of the building. It allows extra sunlight to enter the auditorium and other spaces.

Fun Facts: Louis I. Kahn (1901–1974) was born in Estonia but lived most of his life in Philadelphia. From an early age, Kahn loved to draw and play the piano. The Kahn Building opened in 1972. Fun Facts: Renzo Piano (b. 1937) has designed buildings all over the world—including Paris, London, and Istanbul. He was born in Genoa, Italy, to a family of builders. The Piano Pavilion opened in 2013.

Coming Up for Kimbell Kids Kimbell Kids Drop-In Studios Selected Saturdays, 1–1:45 pm

Pictures and Pages / Fotos y Libros Selected Tuesdays, 10:30–11:30 am

First Thursday Sketching Tours Selected Thursdays, 10:30–11:30 am

Spring Break Art Extravaganza Tuesday, March 12–Friday, March 15, 2024

Family Festival / Fiesta de la Familia Sunday, July 14

Visit Studio A Located in the Piano Pavilion Children (ages 5 and younger) and their favorite adults can play and learn in this sensory-friendly community drop-in space. Free; open during regular museum hours.

Special Exhibitions Bonnard’s Worlds November 5, 2023–January 28, 2024

Art and War in the Renaissance: The Battle of Pavia Tapestries June 16–September 15, 2024

Dutch Art in a Global Age: Masterpieces from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston November 10, 2024–February 9, 2025 Youth education programs are supported by the Lowe Foundation Endowment for Kimbell Kids.

Learning to Look Learning to Look is a free, biannual publication designed for young art lovers. Each issue explores one object from the Kimbell’s permanent collection with engaging graphics, fun facts, and prompts to encourage close looking, personal connections, and creative expression.

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