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A Look at Contemporary Museum Architecture

In Preparation for the Albright-Knox's Impending Addition

The Albright-Knox’s present expansion plans are expected to be big, boisterous, and loud, and designed by the world-renowned firm of OMA (Office of Municipal Architecture). This firm has a past in which big, boisterous, and loud were the status quo, particularly exemplified in the lead architect, the Pritzker Prize winner, Rem Koolhaas. The firm’s designs have been praised for several decades, especially in the famous and easily recognizable CCTV Headquarters, Seattle Public Library, Guggenheim Las Vegas, Prada New York, and Casa da Musica just to name a few. Rem Koolhaas himself is not designing the project, but instead his protégé, Shohei Shigematsu, who is lead partner for the New York City office of OMA. He himself has a history in designing cultural sites such as the Quebec National Beaux Arts Museum and the Faena Arts Center in Miami, and also in exploring the urban environment, particularly in the cases of the designs for a new civic center in Bogota, an urban water strategy for the Jersey Shore, and an innovative food hub for the city of Louisville, Kentucky. He may not be as boisterous, or as loud, as Rem Koolhaas, but he is still a respected practitioner of civic design both in the United States and the whole of the Western Hemisphere. The basic premise for the AK expansion was revealed in June, but criticism has come from its planned use of space. So, instead of merely explaining why there are problems with it, there should be examples of museum architecture built within the last twenty years with special credence given to expansion designs of older buildings.

Kunsthaus Graz, designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier

This unique protrusion of black emanating from the city center of Graz in Austria was designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier of Great Britain; it is today affectionately known as the “Friendly Alien,” a playful remark on the building’s remarkably futuristic and organic, while completely non-traditional, form. This neofuturistic expansion to a neoclassical building is perfect for the easily changeable black box that the expansion is needed to be. It is almost as if the space is a black, ominous cloud that changes to the environmental needs of the museum and the art it holds. It includes three galleries, offices, meeting spaces, a media-art laboratory, reading and media lounge, gift shop, café, and observation deck. Oh, and the façade is “intelligent,” in which it can be programmed to display information and interact with users.

Vulcania Centre Europeen du Volcanisme, designed by Hans Hollein

This museum, thought to be the last postmodernist work, was opened in 2002 to fanfare for its bold form and volcano-like entrance. The building is submerged and shows a single cone, clad in concrete-looking slabs of solidified lava and a golden interior that brings light into the unraveling chasm. In fact, he received inspiration in part from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and Dante’s Inferno. He mimicked the site’s natural setting in Auvergne, France, maybe to the level of farce, but purposefully. The Pritzker Prize winning architect died in 2014 with this museum being one of his best remembered pieces.

Centre PasquArt, Addition designed by Diener & Diener

By far the most applicable to the case of the Albright Knox, the Centre PasquArt, a modern and contemporary art gallery in Switzerland, was founded in 1990 in an old hospital. It
constructed its east wing in 1999. This addition is a lesson in context if there ever was one. Although differences are obvious, in materials and style, the building still appears unchanging. The rooves appear at similar heights, the floors, and their floorplates, are perfectly linked, and the addition’s motif is ever present from its entrance to its courtyard to its new gallery space. It is in this case that the old neoclassical style can bridge together with its contemporary counterpart to both support and connect the other’s fashion.

Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (mumok), designed by Ortner & Ortner

Another lesson in context, this one may be harder to spot. Situated in a baroque courtyard within the Museumsquartier in Vienna, Austria. This contemporary art museum is completely
new, but masterfully interacts with its urban surroundings. It was oriented to greet visitors in the easiest and most direct way. Also, the dark stone-clad façade, although unlike its immediate baroque neighbors is altogether suitable for the industrial neighborhood that is just on the other side of the courtyard’s walls. The building is still classical in the sense that it is a complete and proportional form, which is a tenet of postmodern thinking, and is fitting with the aggressively classical flourishes of baroque architecture. While doing this, it also breaks up the space well; the building creates diversity in its extremely singular environment.

Milwaukee Art Museum – Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava

The basic belief of this structure is to add not to the museum, but to the neighborhood context. Connected to another beautiful structure, Eero Saarinen’s War Memorial Center, it provides a respectful contrast to a darker and heavier building such as Saarinen’s, while also connecting downtown to the waterfront as if portraying a ship heading out on Lake Michigan. In the way that it shows its light and airy qualities, it can be compared to a postmodern gothic cathedral. It also supports a beautiful piece of art in its Burke Brise Soleil, a set of wings that “flap” at various times in the day; it is a remarkable sight to see. The addition is beautiful from all angles and a deciding piece in the architect’s great collection of works.

Victoria and Albert Museum, Addition designed by Amanda Levete

In the current plan unveiled by OMA-NYC, the courtyard of the 1962 addition by Gordon Bunshaft is completely subsumed by a new entrance  and gallery space. The demolition of a key part in this notable building has raised a few eyes. To see how a courtyard can be a perfect place for expansion, the newly unveiled Amanda Levete designed addition to the Victoria and Albert Museum shows this beautifully. The courtyard was slated to be the new entrance way for the museum, and instead of destroying it, the architect increased capacity for the museum and simplified the gallery flow. Now the world-renowned museum of design and the decorative arts has a more functional and seamless addition without altering the main building’s original composition.  This is done by digging underneath the courtyard and allowing sunlight through narrow slits that also act as artwork for the many museum visitors to see.

As a way to see other expansion plans, in order to compare them to what is expected at the Albright-Knox, and future Gundlach, gallery, here is a list:

Museum of Modern ArtDiller Scofidio & Renfro and Gensler

Philadelphia Art MuseumFrank Gehry      (for all those that want a subterranean expansion)

Royal Academy of Arts LondonDavid Chipperfield

American Museum of Natural HistoryStudio Gang

Frick CollectionSelldorf Architects

Bass Museum (Second Phase)Arata Isozaki 

Hood MuseumTod Williams Billie Tsien

Tate St. Ives Cornwall Jamie Forbert Architects

New Museums:

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa Heatherwick Studios

Institute of Contemporary Art Los AngeleswHY (new location for museum)

Fondation Entreprise Galeries LafayetteOMA

Other museums designed in the last twenty years that were not able to be discussed in this article:

Rosenthal Center of Contemporary ArtZaha Hadid

Paper Art MuseumShigeru Ban

Modern Art Museum of Fort WorthTadao Ando

Great Court of British Museum Foster and Partners (addition)

Schlauger, Laurenz FoundationHerzog and De Meuron

Imperial War Museum NorthDaniel Libeskind

Toledo Museum of Art SANAA

Het Valkhof Museum – Van Berkel and Bos (became UNStudio)

Gallery of Horyuji TreasuresTaniguchi and Associates

Liner MuseumGigon/Guyer

Palmach Museum of History – Zvi Hecker

American Folk Art MuseumTod Williams Billie Tsien

Jewish Museum Berlin – Daniel Libeskind

Museum of Hirishige AndoKengo Kuma

Nasher Sculpture CenterRenzo Piano

Altamira Museum – Juan Navarro Baldeweg

River and Rowing Museum – David Chipperfield

Museo de Bellas Artes Castellon Mansilla and Tunon

Serralves Museum of Contemporary ArtAlvaro Siza

Van AbbemuseumAbel Cahen (addition)

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary ArtSteven Holl

Museum of Modern Art – Yoshio Taniguchi (past addition)

Of course there are more museums of note, like the Guggenheim Helsinki, Museum of Islamic Art – Doha, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Louvre Lens, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Chicago Art Institute (addition), Maritime Museum – Abu Dhabi, Portland Japanese Garden Cultural Center, that were not apart of this list, but if you really like a newly built museum (in the last 20 years) or newly expanded museum not on this list, please suggest it in the comments below. And if there was a museum on this list that you really liked, please post that in the comments as well.

Written by Bradley Castiglia

Bradley Castiglia

Bradley Castiglia is 16 years old and a Senior at the Nichols School. He is also a docent with Explore Buffalo, and has a deep interest in architecture, which he plans to study in college.

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  • UrbanLove

    I love this kid!
    Keep running with this interest, Bradley–I see great things in your future.

  • Mariann Caprino

    Thank you for putting the AKG design proposal into a global context. We SO need to get beyond this small-minded Buffalo thinking. These are iconic buildings around the globe. Wouldn’t it be awesome for Buffalo’s museum to be among these forward-thinking, innovative buildings? THINK BIG!!!!

  • Tahooter

    Bradley, great article presenting issues and designs from around the globe.

    OMA knows AKG will be guided by space constraint: staying within current footprint . . . or hiding underground. The sticking point is the current entrance/sculpture garden: save or jettison. I see the Bunshaft bldg as a jewel box and beauty, while the adjacent entrance/sculpture garden a vestibule. The sculpture garden is underutilized, not serving the jewel box or visitor and therefore disposable. The transition area between the Green and Bunshaft bldgs should be devoted to exhibit space only stacked above a single story entrance. We are told most of the AK collection is hidden, so let’s devote most of the expansion to presentation space and less to soaring entrance halls.

    • davvvvid

      Are you familiar with the culture shed project being built in NYC? Its essentially a large atrium on wheels that will provide a space for non-traditional art performance and films: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX_odXZqHIY

      • Tahooter

        Fantastical . . . Let’s put one on a rail on the underside of Skyway. Let the bake sale campaign begin!

        • davvvvid

          Lol. It will take a lot of cookies. I was just bringing it up because it highlights how large scale performance and events have become a big part of the art world.

      • PaulBuffalo

        I saw the shell, still under construction, a few weeks ago. It’s gargantuan in size. It looks like a few Albright-Knox museums could be stacked beneath it. This will be the defining space on NYC’s west side.

    • GatesResident

      I agree with everything here but wanted to clarify something I think a lot of people misinterpreted from OMA’s plan. In addition to the underground galleries built near the current parking lot, they also are initially planning for the whole space above the entrance hall to be galleries as well. The Bunshaft hallways are not being sacrificed merely for an entrance but for much more gallery space high above.

  • Michael Jarosz

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/22d5f203fe026491493e8b257a17525d7914c2bcaec3ecac8e4a01c04263dc5f.jpg “Connected to another beautiful structure, Eliel Saarinen’s War Memorial Center.”

    The Milwaukee War Memorial was built in 1957. Eliel Saarinen died in 1950. The Milwaukee project was designed by his son Eero. This is not the first time you have mixed the two up. Please hire a fact checker.

    • Everything is Great

      Grandpa’s pissed, Bradley. He expects accuracy and precision, but forgets we are dealing with a third world publication, minus your post.