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Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA); Donor Recognition


The country’s oldest art museum and school, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) was established in 1805. It offers art education programs and public galleries. In celebration of its 200th anniversary, the academy acquired the 1916 Gomery-Schwartz Motor Company building next door to its Frank Furness-designed Victorian Gothic landmark. The ten-story, concrete building with original car showrooms was acquired and renamed the Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building for the former board member and supporter. A donor recognition program was conceived to recognize all of the patrons who enabled the renovation of the Hamilton Building into additional exhibition space.

The Hamilton Building’s place in Philadelphia’s automobile-industry history, and its eligibility for the National Register of Historic Properties made it a significant example of industrial architecture. Dagit Saylor Architects and the academy worked closely to ensure the building’s renovation balanced preservation of historic details with an elegantly simple, modern interior. ex;it’s design of a donor recognition display needed to inspire donor gifts, support the “showroom for art” aesthetic, and incorporate the expectations of a 40-person board of directors.


A high-ceilinged lobby with abundant windows and few solid walls was impetus for a freestanding donor display. The long, narrow form’s organic shape counters the sharpness of the building’s architecture while complementing its modern aesthetic. Although not an aim of the project, the resulting donor display functions like sculpture. Laminated glass panels with donor names silk-screened on them float above rolled stainless steel blade arcs, creating a subtle tension between the two curves.

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