Press Release

October 29, 2018

Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee. Photo by Eric Staudenmaier

Philadelphia Contemporary Announces Johnston Marklee as Design Architects for its Future Permanent Home

The acclaimed firm, working in association with MGA Partners as Architect of Record, selected following an extensive nation-wide search; will join Philadelphia Contemporary in creating a new type of platform for contemporary art and spoken word

(PHILADELPHIA, PA — October 29, 2018) — Philadelphia Contemporary is pleased to announce the selection of Johnston Marklee as Design Architects, working in association with MGA Partners as Architect of Record, for its future permanent home. The decision is the culmination of an extensive, nation-wide process lasting more than a year.

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with Johnston Marklee and MGA Partners as we continue to shape our vision of what Philadelphia Contemporary is and ought to be,” said Harry Philbrick, Philadelphia Contemporary Founding Director. “Twenty-first-century audiences are seeking new models for engaging culture, and Johnston Marklee and MGA will bring a rigor and curiosity to the process of meeting that demand that lines up perfectly with our vision.”

A new independent curatorial institution in Philadelphia devoted exclusively to contemporary art, Philadelphia Contemporary will act as a visual and performance art space: non-collecting, multidisciplinary, and exploratory. Conceived as a new model for presenting art and developing community engagement, the organization has sought to move beyond fixed architecture and programmatic models. That approach was reflected in the architect selection process, with an emphasis on a dynamic space to support a constantly evolving institution.

Johnston Marklee, based in Los Angeles and founded by partners Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, has received more than 30 major awards for their residential, commercial, and institutional work. Lee and Johnston were selected as Artistic Directors of the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, and Lee was named Chair of the Department of Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design this July. The firm’s latest institutional project, the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston, Texas, will open this November 3rd.

“We envision Philadelphia Contemporary to be a model for the twenty-first-century museum wherein there are no boundaries between art and the public,” said Johnston Marklee partner Sharon Johnston, FAIA. “It will be an environment to stage events, from ephemeral spoken word performances to traditional, large-scale exhibitions; a social space for interaction; and a safe space for repose.” Added Johnston Marklee partner Mark Lee, “Philadelphia Contemporary will facilitate cultural exchange in a manner that is inextricably woven into the fabric of the city.”

The selection process, organized by David van der Leer, was centered around a fourteen-member jury composed of representatives from Philadelphia Contemporary, the City of Philadelphia, the local community, and the arts and design community. At the center of the search, which resulted in a longlist of twenty domestic firms, a five-firm shortlist, and three finalists, was an open question: What is the future of cultural institutions? Firms shortlisted and selected as finalists were compensated for their work. Besides Johnston Marklee, the finalists were KieranTimberlake from Philadelphia, PA and Ultramoderne from Providence, RI.

“This was an extremely thorough and thoughtful search, and we couldn’t be happier with the result,” said Michael Forman, chair of the selection jury. “The thoughtfulness and creativity of the firms we’ve worked with during this process has been inspiring, and while it was a difficult choice we have no doubt we’ve made the right one.”

The selection jury included Chairman and CEO of FS Investments Michael Forman; Art Consultant Jaime Frankfurt; Architect & Partner of Gluckman Tang Richard Gluckman; Curator Mia Locks; Partner at Lowe & Associates Carolyn Oakley Lowe; Philadelphia Contemporary Senior Advisor Don Millinger; Artist Pepón Osorio; Previous Director of the Museum at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and Founding Director of Philadelphia Contemporary Harry Philbrick; Deputy Chief of Staff to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney Vaughn Ross; John H. Bryan Chair and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago Zoë Ryan; Philadelphia Contemporary Sueyun & Gene Locks Artistic Director Nato Thompson; University Architect and Associate Vice President for Facilities at Drexel University Nancy Rogo Trainer; Curator of Spoken Word for Philadelphia Contemporary & the 2016‒17 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia Yolanda Wisher; and Director of Community, Economic, and Real Estate Development at the People’s Emergency Center CDC (PECCDC) James Wright.

The design process will continue over the coming months, and the final building design will be announced in 2019. The location for the future building is forthcoming. Philadelphia Contemporary began pop-up programming in October, 2016, and will continue through the development of the new space and beyond. Most recent is the Festival for the People, a two-week, three-weekend celebration of the arts as manifest across different facets of Philadelphia’s culture curated by Nato Thompson, Philadelphia Contemporary Sueyun & Gene Locks Artistic Director.

About Philadelphia Contemporary
Founded in 2016, Philadelphia Contemporary presents visual art, performance art, and spoken word across the city of Philadelphia. A nomadic contemporary art organization with ambitions to establish a freestanding, globally oriented and locally aware non-collecting arts institution, Philadelphia Contemporary has pioneered a vibrant and sustainable model based on partnerships and collaborations. Having commenced pop-up programming in October 2016, Philadelphia Contemporary continues to develop an ambitious roster of projects that will be mounted in the coming years, while planning for a permanent home in a new building.

About Johnston Marklee
Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee are the founding partners of the architecture firm Johnston Marklee. Since its establishment in 1998 in Los Angeles, Johnston Marklee has been recognized nationally and internationally with over 30 major awards and numerous publications.

Projects undertaken by Johnston Marklee are diverse in scale and type, spanning seven countries throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia. Recent projects include the Menil Drawing Institute on the campus of the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, opening fall 2018; the new UCLA Graduate Art Studios campus in Culver City, California; and the design of the new Dropbox global headquarters in San Francisco.

Johnston Marklee’s work has been exhibited internationally and is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Menil Collection, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Architecture Museum of TU Munich. Mark Lee is the Chair of the Department of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Both Johnston and Lee are Professors in Practice of Architecture at the Harvard GSD.

About MGA Partners
MGA Partners is a widely recognized design firm which has won over 50 regional and national awards. Working with the most prominent institutions throughout the United States for the past 25 years, the firm has completed construction of complex projects for cultural, educational and public realms. Located in Philadelphia, the firm is led by Daniel Kelley, Mary Keefe, Amy Stein and Catherine Broh.

Current projects include the new Wharton Academic and Research Building for the University of Pennsylvania opening Fall 2020, renovation of historic Chandler Ullmann Hall at Lehigh University opening Fall 2019, and a new Performing Arts Center and Campus Improvements for Central High School in Philadelphia currently in design. MGA has recently completed the Perelman Auditorium at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Maltz Performing Arts Center at Case Western Reserve University, Morgan Hall at Temple University and the Cinema / Theatre & Drama Center at Indiana University. In addition, MGA has worked with the federal government on over 70 projects across the nation since 1990.

About David van der Leer
David van der Leer is the outgoing Executive Director of Van Alen Institute and Principal of DVDL Design Decisions. DVDL Design Decisions is an agency facilitating outstanding architecture for the 21st century. Based in New York City, DVDL Design Decisions develops bespoke processes for institutions, corporations, and individuals to research and evolve their program, select and collaborate with designers, and make compelling design decisions.