The Digital Art Museum Part III: Dualities

The DAM. Annex Lobby. (ARG. 2010)

Well, now that you know the motivations behind the Digital Art Museum, I will go ahead and mention several dualities found in the D.A.M. that give it additional bearing in terms of the topics of interest I’ve been exploring on this blog.

1. Light Vs. Dark:  Perhaps the most important duality in the DAM is the gradual transition from light and dark space.  In our subconscious, the light space feels extroverted.  In the light space we feel the discomfort of potential voyeurism but also the comfort caused by almost immediate understanding of the space. In other words, there is little mystery.   The dark space is introverted and more comforting, but at the same time scary because the dark is the container for the unknown.  Depending on what type of disposition you are, you will probably enjoy one space over the other more.

2. The Old in the New: The DAM is a building meant to look modern but is not ignorant of the past.  There are several precedents that inform the structure and give it a richness of character, without being superficial homage.  Precedent should be evocative, never blatant.

Egyptian Temple contrasted with The DAM. (ARG. 2010)

-Ancient Egyptian Temples informed the planning of the DAM in terms of the transition from light to dark.  In the Egyptian Temple this light to dark is a hierarchy that leads up to the most holy place.  The hierarchical element is diffused in the DAM because the flow is on a loop not a line.  Instead of going from light to dark, the DAM goes from light to dark to light.  The DAM plan is also aesthetically evocative of the Egyptian temple plan.  They share a similar quality I like to call linear transformative symmetry.

KF Schinkel. Altes Museum. The Portico and ingress in the DAM are evocative of this museum.

– Altes Museum by Friedrich Schinkel: The frontality and niche-like quality of the entrance was partially inspired by the entrance of the Altes Museum. It is an intimate and gradual way to bring someone into the space.

FLLW. Darwin D. Martin House. Axial games.

-Frank Lloyd Wright:  The axial relationship between the gallery, the annex and the sculpture garden is partially inspired by the shifting axial games played by Frank Lloyd Wright.  FLLW was interested in constantly rotating main axis’ to engage a person more immersively into his buildings.  I believe all of my projects are informed by this axial shiftiness.

– Mies Van Der Rohe:  Of course the aesthetic thrust, the belief in the distillation of building, the use of order, the use of glass and steel detailing are all informed by the later work of Mies Van Der Rohe.   I believe MVDR created an architecture that was the logical conclusion of Modernism.  He took it as far as it could go before it was no longer practical or able to stand.  I believe buildings should be free of all unnecessary elements.  Nothing need be added and nothing can be taken away.

– Renzo Piano Museum Designs:  The new addition to the Chicago Art Museum and several other works by Renzo Piano has definitely played a part in my approach to this museum design.  The greatest lesson I learned from the Chicago Art Museum addition is that paintings are much better in daylight than artificial light.  Pianos complex screened and shaded daylight creates a diffuse glow that keeps the paintings positively vibrant!  I want this in the DAM too.

DAM. The art changes the whole temperature of the museum. (ARG. 2010)

3. Content Vs. Container:  Another important duality is found in the relationship between the building (container) and the art (contents).  There is a striking contrast between the unfussy neutral colored building and the loud, busy and bold artwork that houses it.  The acknowledgment and aggrandizement of this contrast creates a dialogue related to the decorum between art and architecture: The art in a museum is meant to be viewed, the architecture is meant to create the best possible and least intrusive environment in which to view the artwork. Too much competition between these fields results in a diminished quality to both.  When this occurs art and architecture are no longer helping each other; they are at war.  The building is the frame for the artwork; it should not be fussed over or distracting from the art.

Specifically to the DAM as well is the increased amount of robustly whimsical artwork.   This contrasts wildly with the sober building around it.

DAM. Major Axis Diagram. (ARG. 2010.)

4. Symmetry vs. Asymmetry:  There are several games played with symmetry in the DAM.  The museum proper clearly has a linear symmetry, but this is contrasted with the asymmetrical placement of the annex.  The annex itself has symmetry within individual parts, but is not itself wholly symmetrical.  The sculpture court at the entrance of the two buildings creates axis’ that tie the museum and annex together.  Shifting axis create symmetrical experiences, even within spaces that are not wholly symmetrical.  The building engages itself with the symmetry/asymmetry debate.  It is both these things at different times.

DAM. Dual Densities in the museum and in the relationship btw the museum and the annex. (ARG. 2010)

5. Duality of Density: The duality of density is the acknowledgment and distillation of what Louis Kahn calls the servant and served space.  In buildings that use a large amount of glass, unsightly utilitarian needs such as bathrooms and mechanical spaces become concentrated into cores.  These cores are a marked contrast to the free and open public spaces that deal regularly with people, light and culture.  Cores spaces deal with specific functionality.  This frees up the rest of the building and allows it the freedom to adapt to ambiguous use.  To clarify this:  The lobby is an ambiguous space that can be used for any number of things including buying tickets, checking coats, or having a rendezvous, whereas the furnace room has a specific functionality and task.

To take it one step further we can look at dual density in relation to the museum and the annex.  The museum has a free program that is adaptable to changing art.  It is glass clad and filled with light.  In contrast, the annex deals with more specific functionality, including the archives, auditorium and administrative offices.  Appropriately then, the annex space is clad in concrete.  It can be thought of as an externalized core in service to the museum.

The fritted glass creates and ambiguous relationship between protection and connection.

6. Protection and Connection:  The job of a building is twofold: to protect its contents and people from the adversity of weather, and to give one a relationship with the outside world so they do not feel stifled and isolated from nature.  The DAM attempts to have a dialogue with nature while at the same time reassuring its inhabitants they are protected from the nature’s wrath. Connections come in several forms:  The front portico is an introduction to the envelope of the building before one actually enters the building. It is a transition from outside to inside.  It provides a transitional amount of protection from the weather by providing shade and relief from the rain. Once inside, the glass creates a visual connection to nature, but keeps the wind and temperature out.  Glass is both protection and connection. The inner courtyard, which is also visible from the front portico, is another device for connecting the inside with the outside.   In terms of protection:  the most potent symbol of protection is the ceiling plane.  It is the looming object that buffers us from the ravages of sun, wind and rain.  The abstraction and overarching quality of the roof provides contrast with the connection of the glass facade.   The solid floor and utility cores also ground the building.  As one makes their way further into the museum the fritted glass and media theatres provide more and more protection from nature, which is demanded by the type of artwork presented.  In the annex, protection and connection are contrasted between the solidity of the functional spaces and the glass encased linear hallway.  In general, the museum has more connection devices with nature, while the annex is more about protection from nature.  This speaks to the sensibilities of introverted and extroverted functionality.

7.  Grounding/ Flotation: While not deliberately done in this project there are still certain aspects of the DAM that tie in to the grounding/flotation duality.  Grounding/Flotation is the manifestation of an architect’s contradictory needs in terms of his/her relationship with gravity.  An architect wants to ground a building and give it heaviness to reassure its inhabitants that it will not fall down.  They also want to alleviate the oppressive effects of gravity by using aesthetic devices that give a building a sense of flotation.   Flotation is achieved in the DAM using several devices.  The base course around the museum and annex is inset and painted black. This is to give the building the illusion that it is slightly hovering. White painted slender columns in the interior hold up a darker roof, which also reinforces the effect that one is hovering between a plane of ground and ceiling. The use of glass on the facade is the separation between ceiling and floor.  It also reinforces the effect that the roof is a floating plane.  The shifted placement of the annex next to the museum gives the effect that it has potentially slid out of place furthering the illusion that the building is hovering.  Grounding elements include the utility cores in the museum. These solid elements help to visually tie the building into the ground.  The solid concrete facade of the annex also gives an illusion of extra weight.  These elements are balanced with each other in the attempt to assure the sound nature of the building while at the same time alleviating the oppressive effects of gravity.

8.  Rationalist vs. Spiritualist:  Last but not least is the central idea of this blog, which happens to be the reconciliation between pragmatic concerns and aesthetic ideologies.  How do we as architects balance these opposing demands into cohesive design?  We are fundamentally torn between our aspiration for honesty and our aspiration for looking good.  We should embrace our hypocrisy, not hide from it, because in the end we can’t be one or the other.  We have to be both.  Our best intentions are betrayed by opposing demands.  A functionalist will inevitably be biased by the desire for aesthetic delight no matter how much this is suppressed.  A pure aesthete will constantly be hounded by the practical demands of a building. We can’t help but be influenced by opposition.   The master architect will acknowledge this and weave the contradiction into a supplementary whole.  They will use the dual demands of architecture in their favor.   Duality no longer becomes about opposition, but about balance.

I’m not going to analyze the Digital Art Museum in terms of this fundamental duality.  It is spoken for in all the previous dualities mentioned.

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