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A bright spot for architecture: museum design

September 18, 2010 |  9:04 pm

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Architecture is going through a pretty dark period at the moment, with the troubled economy weighing heavily on the profession. But there is one surprising bright spot amid the gloom: museum design.

Even as a handful of high-profile museum expansions have been scaled back or canceled because of the recession, many more are going forward -- in cities around the world, and in a diverse range of styles. Renzo Piano is opening another of his precise, restrained gallery buildings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art even as New York firm Diller, Scofidio & Renfro advances designs for Los Angeles, Berkeley and Washington, D.C.

Zaha Hadid's MAXXI museum in Rome and a new branch of the Pompidou, by Shigeru Ban and the French architect Jean de Gastines, are in their first months of operation, while an outpost of the Louvre in the northern French city of Lens, designed by New York firm Imrey Culbert and Tokyo architects SANAA, is under construction. An additional Louvre branch, plus yet another Guggenheim, are planned for the United Arab Emirates state of Abu Dhabi.

As I argue in this Critic's Notebook, the most intriguing of those museum projects are interested in moving past tired arguments about how respectful the architecture is -- or isn't -- to the art on display. Instead, they have something important to say about the relationship between the museum and the city.

-- Christopher Hawthorne

Image: A rendering of the forthcoming branch of the Louvre Museum in Lens, France, by New York firm Imrey Culbert and Tokyo firm SANAA.