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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Other museums designed in the last twenty years that were not able to be discussed in this article:
Palmach Museum of History – Zvi Hecker
Jewish Museum Berlin – Daniel Libeskind
Altamira Museum – Juan Navarro Baldeweg
River and Rowing Museum – David Chipperfield
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.