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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.

Comments () | Archives (5)

1. Museums aren't easy to design, but I'd guess the programs for them are less difficult than for, oh, say, a large hospital. Museums are somewhat like churches--some big, empty spaces for art or God, surrounded by some functional bits. A nice, showy "sculptural" exterior and some play-of-light nuances, and you've got another creamy-dreamy building over which the public and critics so inclined can rhapsodize.

2. The dyspepsia of (1) owes to the continuing praise that high-end, monied-institutional, "starchitect" architecture gets, almost to the exclusion of anything else, e.g., architecture for public housing, hospitals, grammar schools, jails, etc.

3. I've been guilty of (2) myself. But nearly a quarter-century after Bilbao and at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, I'm a little fatigued with hearing about the architectural wonderfulness of museums. Maybe the "tired argument" of how respectful the architecture of a museum is or isn't to the art on display is tired because--please notice--the argument doesn't mention ordinary human beings and how they might benefit it more substantial ways than merely somewhat better or lesser art-viewing conditions.

It seems LACMA is turning its back on Wilshire Blvd, and so everyone and everything to the south of it, as Broad certainly doesnt give a damn about them. His mausoleums are for the hillfolk and westies. The main entrance is going to be from the north, and for car traffic with valets to park underground, rather than the rif raff who take buses and the subway. The new additions have a tinker toy mentality, built more off of Ruscha's Standard Station painting. Weakly built walkways of red and so limited in color to just one, no possibility for others, with the palm trees mostly beige trunks only showing, no green tropical palms used or Italian cypress or others that are of our city, and unpaintable or changeable stone facings of the buldings. At least should have found a good garden designer rather than artistes who could give the area some life.

At least the Metz museum has some wood involved something natural, but probably the characterless blonde taht is so in now, weak and bland. But what are you going to put in all these monstrosities? Contempt art is shallow and now dead in the great economic cataclysm, created by these very arts patrons. More wasted space, and architects who think they are sculptors, and dont know their roles in life. A mans has got to know his limitation. Clint is a genius.

I dont see how our museums anyway relate to the city, its history, its environment, its architecture at all. We are an art deco style at its highest, with crafstmen homes, far superior and livable and beautiful than this stuff, which is that of fantasy and ego. Architects need to star paying attention to their surroundings, it is not all about them.

These are not of LA, but that of corporate America and its ways of seperating us from out money. Well, i guess they are paying attention after all, because you want US to pay for giant boulders and smoking choo choo trains suspended for no better reason than because it can be done, to amuse those who use the valet parking. Games, therapy, and decoration for parties. That is NOT creative art.

art collegia dlenda est

Right on Peter Plagens.
The "tired" argument about museums and their relationship with the art they house must include the viewers - the people USING the museum. Yeah it's tired and we all keep talking about it because it seems to have been dropped off museum building programs altogether. I think we can thank ego-maniacal boards and museum directors for that.

I made a trip to see the Pompidou-Metz couple months ago. Well worth it. Unlike the De Young in SF, this museum fascinating architecture was just perfectly celebrated together with the art being exhibited inside.

Stop whining.

Go see it yourself, open your eyes and be open minded.

Of what I can see, I ahve refused to be empty headed. Boring, and about the patrons parties, not the art or how it can be for teh nations people, ALL the people. Its a social scene.

Save the watts towers, tear down the rotten colorless ivories
The Parthenon WAS painted you know, sheeesh.


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