The Digital Art Museum Part II.: On Context

The D.A.M. from above: A building without a place.

Some interesting points have been raised about the Digital Art Museum in terms of context and environment.  I will address these points directly after I discuss some pertinent general ideas on architecture:

Real architecture, built buildings, are born of constraints.  They are the sum total of the architects ability to compromise.  The major constraints all strangely seem to start with the letter C so I guess I will call them the 6C’s:  Client, Climate, Context, Construction, Contractors and Codes.  These outside factors inform a building beyond any idealized notion the architect may have.  It is the architect’s job to synthesize these constraints, to adapt to them in a way that appears effortless.  The artistry and creativity of an architect is more rigidly restricted than any of the other arts.

Having said that, I am not personally a fan of architecture that bends over backwards to accommodate its environment.  I believe in the assertive will of the architect to create a place.  An architecture that twists and turns and aligns with all aspects of its context can be compromised to the point of losing its identity or force.  I believe a building should have the ability to stand on its own two feet when completely removed from its context.  This is a test that I think many new buildings would fail.  I am not a functionalist that believes a building is only the sum total of its compromises.  I believe it is the architects will adapted to these compromises.  Context is very important, and should be meticulously considered in the design of a building.  It is the architect’s responsibility to be conscious of his/her impact on the urban or rural environment. But this does not mean that an architect should lose his/her focus in service to the constraints.  There are also degrees of context.  In a dense and historical urban site context has much more importance than in an open flat plot of land out in a developing suburb.  Sometimes buildings are expected to blend, but sometimes they create a sense of place.

I tend towards Mies Van Der Rohe’s notion of universal space as opposed to specific space.  Program should be fluid and adaptable to change.  It should be ambiguous in order that the tenants can adapt it to their needs.   Organic architecture, which is born out of specific functionality, is rigid in what it accommodates.  For example, let’s say 10 years ago a gallery installed niches into a wall to allow for large tube televisions to be inserted flush into the wall.   After ten years the gallery purchases new televisions; all flat screens.  What are they to do with a wall they want to be flat but now has a bunch of niches in it?   Specific functionality is not fluid, it does not adapt to changing technology or the needs of the clients.  The same can be said for context.  Too much contextual acrobatics can become confusing if at some point a building nearby that has informed the design is torn down.  Now without the contextual cue, the building looks absurd and strange.  A building should be able to stand on its own and adapt to its environment.

The D.A.M:

The Digital Art Museum is a building with minimal constraints.  They include; the acknowledgement of gravity, a serious response to program, my personal taste, and the breadth of my creativity.   The building is not meant to respond to a context because it does not have one.   If it did, I would imagine it in some sort of business park surrounded by trees similar to the location of the John Deere Headquarters by Eero Saarinen in Moline, Illinois.  The building does not even have a solar orientation.  (Solar considerations would be accommodated by the placement of trees and the amount of frit on the glass facade.)  That is because this building is an idealized version of what the DAM is to me.  This is the distilled intent of the building, shorn of all major constraints.    If this building were taken to the next step and translated to the real world constraints would inevitably inform the project to the point that it could change drastically.  However, the germinal of the design would remain intact.  The distilled idea would survive the barrage of constraints because I searched for the idea of the building before I was mired by limitations.   Thus, for me, architecture is born of constraints but is given force by the creative will of the architect.

I am fundamentally torn between pragmatic and spiritual concerns.  I am an architect, and thus a hypocrite towards my own desires.

The next post will explore various dualities investigated in the Digital Art Museum.

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