You go in.
I’m gonna check out this building.
The Frederic C. Hamilton Building, architect Daniel Libeskind’s audacious 2006 addition to the Denver Art Museum, looks like a futuristic spaceship designed after fractured icebergs. “Well, it is the 21st century,” Libeskind affirmed in a telephone interview from New York. “The functional museum is changing. It’s more than just something for the elite. It’s about creating new kinds of encounters between people and art.”
His design for the Denver project is one of 17 buildings featured in Museums in the 21st Century: Concepts, Projects, Buildings. The traveling exhibition opens Friday, Jan. 29, at the New Mexico Museum of Art. It was developed by Suzanne Greub, director of Art Centre Basel, Switzerland. The center and the architects of the selected buildings— there were 27 in the original Basel show— collaborated on the installation’s assemblage of architectural sketches, models, and computer renderings.
In information provided for the show, Libeskind says the materials for the Denver Art Museum building “are those closely relating to the existing context (local stone) as well as innovative new materials (titanium) ... this architecture has an organic connection to the public at large and to those aspects of experience that are also intellectual, emotional, and sensual.”
Among Libeskind’s other projects are the Jewish Museum in Berlin; the MGM Mirage/DubaiWorld CityCenter in Las Vegas; and the redevelopment master plan for theWorld Trade Center in New York.
Many of his most daring building designs followed revolutions in new materials and engineering and in computer-aided design, yet like many architects, he still dreams of fantastic buildings that may be impossible to build.
“It’s not just experimental; it’s about ideas; it’s about social ideas; it’s about community; it’s about culture,” he said. “And I think museums, in order to retain their position in the free world, have to also be innovative, so it’s not even a luxury to dream and think. And of course, I think another important thing is that, particularly in a globalized world, where everything and everywhere things are the same, the site-specific— the kind of unique, unprecedented spatial experience that cannot be gotten in any other form than by being there— is even more in demand.
“Of course, as an architect, I dream of new materials and new possibilities. The buzzword of sustainability is more than just being more careful with resources. Memory is an important part of sustainability. Only what is memorable is truly ultimately sustainable; otherwise it’s forgettable and disposable.”
Another outlandish building in the museum show is Peter Cook and Colin Fournier’s gigantic blue stomach, the Kunsthaus Graz in Austria. “This is a great case where they’ve done something incredibly different in a really historic neighborhood, but it works,” said Merry Scully, curator of the New Mexico Museum of Art version of the Basel show. “And it was received well. They call it the ‘friendly alien.’ ” According to a text panel that accompanies the Kunsthaus model, the building’s blue-acrylic skin and “biomorphic” geometry doubles as “an electronic display system that can be programmed to show text, fixed images, animations, or video.”
Among the other show standouts are the Eyebeam Museum of Art and Technology in New York by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York; the University of Michigan Museum of Art expansion by AlliedWorks Architecture, Portland, Oregon; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art expansion in Kansas City by Steven Holl Architects; the Museumsinsel
Berlin by David Chipperfield Architects, London, and others; Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland, by Renzo Piano; and the New Acropolis Museum in Athens by Bernard Tschumi Architects, New York.
Usually, thinking about architecture, you want to see a building. You’ll have to adjust that expectation in an encounter with Tadao Ando’s 2004 Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima, Kagawa, Japan. The facility was largely built underground to protect views in the surrounding national park. Visitors arrive and depart by boat.
“Historically, Japan is an agrarian nation, then it became an industrialized nation, but they’ve never lost that connection with place,” said Christopher Mead, Regents Professor in The University of New Mexico School of Architecture + Planning. “Ando is consciously returning to that in a very emphatic way, and he wants museums that exist only as a place; you can’t see them from the outside.”
“What interests me about Japanese architecture and museums is that in Japan they have figured out how to relate their traditions with the modern world,” Mead said. “You look at the late-20th-and early-21stcentury buildings and they are absolutely modern, but at the same time they are absolutely and unambiguously Japanese, because they speak to profoundly Japanese ideas about space and building traditions.”
“In New Mexico, we tend to think you can either respect the traditions or you can do modern architecture. We set it up as black and white, but the Japanese architects don’t see it that way. I think they’re very critical of Western habits of dialectical thinking, and they’re much more interested in how the two coexist,” he said. In conjunction with the exhibit, Mead presents a lecture on April 9 titled “A Matter of Place: Modern Japanese Museums.”
“Architects like Ando and Yoshio Taniguchi [designer of an addition to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which is also part of the current museum installation] have worked over here in the United States, but I have a sense that we know them through the wrong end of the lens. I want to take it back to Japan and look at where they’re coming from.”
Intriguing building sketches presented in Museums in the 21st Century include a vibrant watercolor sketch by Rafael Viñoly for the Nasher Museum at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and a series of scribbly drawings by Frank Gehry for the (unbuilt) new wing at Corcoran Gallery of Art inWashington, D.C. The Corcoran project would be the latest in Gehry’s series of swoopy, titanium-clad structures that began with the 1997 Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. “I think Bilbao is a fantastic building, one of a kind, and it did great things for the city,” said architecture critic and historian Marc Treib. “But then everyone wanted one.”
In a conversation about boldly nontraditional designs by “starchitects” like Gehry, Libeskind, and Rem Koolhaas, Treib said, “My take is basically that a lot of these buildings are like James Bond films. The plots are the same and you just vary the special effects, then everybody has to outdo everybody else.” Treib, who gives a talk in Santa Fe on March 26, is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Sanctuaries of Spanish New Mexico (1993), A Guide to the Gardens of Kyoto (1980, revised in 2003, with Ron Herman), and Spatial Recall: Memory in Architecture and Landscape (2009).
“There are essentially two schools of thought on this,” he said. “One is that the best place for contemporary art is a neutral space, like an old warehouse. The other argument is that there should be something of architectural character that both attracts people and enhances the experience. That idea says the building should be part of the art, although that often has the danger of overwhelming it.”
Kunsthaus Graz, Austria, by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier Facing page, the Denver Art Museum’s Frederick C. Hamilton Building, designed by Daniel Libeskind
Atrium stairway at the Denver Art Museum; the circular mirrors are part of Tatsuo Miyajima’s Engi installation; DAM images courtesy Studio Daniel Libeskind
New Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece, design by Bernard Tschumi Left, Centre Pompidou-Metz, Lorraine, France, design by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines