Spotlight on Helen Joo, Senior Associate, Ballinger

June 6, 2013 | Philadelphia, Spotlight

Ballinger, an architectural, interior design and engineering firm located in Philadelphia, was the Architect of Record for the Barnes Foundation’s new Art Education Building. Working with Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Soo Choi, Interior Designer at Ballinger, Helen Joo affectionately recounts her experience.

There were hundreds of people that had a part in realizing the vision. “I have incredible admiration for the entire team. Every single person involved is a true craftsman, from the masons pouring the concrete to the hand-woven acoustic looms on the lobby walls. We all share a strong sense of honor to have been a part of this project.”

Helen’s team oversaw the furniture specifically and called on CFI Knoll to furnish the public and educational spaces. “CFI shared our pride in being a part of the project. Their knowledge of the product and responsiveness were excellent. They understood how special it was, from the very first decision down to the installation.”

Here, a closer look into Helen Joo’s part in creating Philadelphia’s newest treasure.


Why did you choose Knoll to furnish The Barnes Foundation?

HJ: It was my responsibility to choose furniture that would support the museum.  It is about the art collection.  I knew the simple, classic design and elegance of Knoll furniture would have a presence of its own while receding back.

Knoll, as a company, shares a commitment to sustainability, which is in accordance with the museum’s LEED platinum status.


Were there any restrictions that affected your design decisions?

HJ: I wouldn’t call it a restriction, but practicality was extremely important. This is a public space. School children will sit on the furniture. It has to be durable and easy to clean.


How did you approach expanding on the experience of the existing collection?

HJ: I was just in awe of the collection and felt an incredible responsibility to preserve the experience. Even though the location changed and even though physical building is new, everything in the exhibit is exactly — fraction of inches — the same as it was in Merion. The intimacy remains. It was our role to enhance the public space and improve its educational capabilities.


There is a noticeable contrast between the public space and collection spaces, and your textile choices bridged this nicely. What was your thinking behind the textiles you chose?

HJ: These choices were not made to impress, more so to create a feeling of discovery. The Barnes Foundation is about educating people. It was important for the public spaces to feel attainable, approachable and comfortable.


Do you have a favorite area or view of the space?

HJ: That’s like asking ‘who is your favorite child?’, but it may be the reflecting pool as you enter. Billie Tsien mentioned that seeing your reflection in the pool reminds you to leave all your stress at the door. It brings your level down a little. That statement reminded me how great design can affect people’s mind and behavior in so many ways.


What feeling do you hope to leave people with after visiting Barnes?

HJ: You feel spiritually enriched.  It is a very different feeling than when you leave a large-scale museum.  It is so intimate; it feels like you received a special gift that lasts a lifetime.


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