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New Work: Philbrook Museum of Art

The Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is one of the most unique and beautiful art museums in the U.S. Located at Villa Philbrook, a 72-room Italian Renaissance-style home and 23 acres of gardens built in 1927 by oilman Waite Phillips, the museum is a cultural center of the city. Next year the Philbrook will expand to a new location in Tulsa’s historic downtown Brady District, the city’s growing arts area. Designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects, the 30,000-square-foot expansion will be housed in the industrial former home of the Tulsa Paper Company and will feature the Philbrook’s holdings in modern and contemporary art and design––including the remarkable George R. Kravis II Design Collection of 20th and 21st century design––as well as its world-class collection of Native American art.

To coincide with the expansion, Pentagram’s Michael Bierut and his team have created a brand identity for the Philbrook that puts an iconic new “face” on the institution. At the same time, Eddie Opara and his team have designed a new website for the museum that makes its collections more accessible to the public. Throughout the process, Pentagram worked with the Museum’s staff as well as with trustee George Kravis, who served as the project’s “guardian angel.”

The Philbrook is an integral part of Tulsa, and the new identity was inspired by the city itself. While doing research for the logo, Bierut, Opara and their designers happened to divide the city into a grid and discovered that isolating the areas of the museum’s two locations –– Villa Philbrook and the new expansion downtown –– formed the shape of a letter “P,” for Philbrook. The form also resembles a human face, a subject of artists throughout history. The identity projects a warmth and accessibility that connects the museum to the community of people who enjoy its programs.

Michael Bierut talks about the new brand identity in a video produced by Pentagram for the Philbrook.

The letterform can be used as a solid form or reversed out to showcase images, as on the Philbrook website, where the iconic shape is used as a window on the museum’s collections. The letterform may be expanded into a full alphabet, as seen in a poster announcing a lecture by Bierut at the museum that served the preview the identity before its official unveiling. The sans serif font of the identity is Benton Sans Condensed; the serif is Miller.

Eddie Opara and his team have redesigned the Philbrook website to reflect the new identity and establish a simple, easy to use design that brings the museum’s collections to the fore. A modular brick structure complements the form of the logo and organizes the site’s sections and navigation with a consistent, uncluttered layout. Information is close to the surface to help visitors find it as easily as possible, and users can easily click through tabs for the site’s different sections and set different modes of view.

Designed for clarity, the site is also highly visual. The new identity serves as a functional façade on the homepage, with the logo acting as a window on scrolling images of the museum’s collections and current exhibitions. Visitors can explore specific collections like Antiquities, African Art and Modern Design, and view images in full-screen mode. An easy-to-use predictive search shows results with thumbnails of images. The site includes a blog and calendar, integrated into the structure for a cohesive experience of museum programming. The modular design works well on computer and iPad, and can be adapted for other formats.

Project Team
Identity: Michael Bierut, partner-in-charge and designer; Hamish Smyth and Deva Pardue, designers.
Website: Eddie Opara, partner-in-charge and designer; Frank LaRocca and Brankica Harvey, designers; Mark Lindsay, developer; Felix Koutchinski and Martin Nothhelfer, design assistants.