Flamboyant museum architecture has largely fallen by the wayside in America and in much of Europe in 2013, but thrives in the global hubs of new wealth in Asia and the Middle East. France (largely by coincidence) is an exception in 2014. Coop Himmelblau’s Musée des Confluences, a Sci-Fi creature of pistoning columns and bent sheets of glass hunched in Lyons will open. It was planned a couple of booms ago. Bernard Arnault’s Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation nears completion. It’s a contemporary-art museum of overlapping leaf-shaped fronds in glass by Frank Gehry.
Renzo Piano embodied the risk-averse trend by proffering awan addition (below) to the revered Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth designed by Louis Kahn in 1972. It’s too bad when a work of architecture is deemed so sacred that only the most deferential kind of addition is acceptable.
A painstaking and costly restoration by the architects ARO and Walter B. Melvin brought back the gorgeous calm of artist Donald Judd’s studio in New York’s SoHo and permitted it to be opened to the public for the first time (below).
And the Perez Miami Art Museum, which for years was beset by financing problems and lack of local support, was a surprise hit (seen late in construction, below). Conceived by former director Terence Riley, with architect Herzog and de Meuron, and executed by the current director, Thom Collins, it aspired to the seemingly vague promise that a museum building could embody the whirling energies of a cultural crossroads — and then made good on it.
Sculptural bravura is not dead in the US, however. 2014 will bring the Broad Museum in Los Angeles (a floating volume wrapped in a super-scale lattice by Diller Scofidio & Renfro), which may mark a quickening of the single-collection museum trend driven by great wealth and stratospheric art prices.
America’s government can’t yet get serious about fighting global warming, but more companies and more organizations are recognizing both the threats and the opportunities, and continue to advance the state of the art. Substantial “Net zero” buildings (ones that use no net energy) have now been achieved — most notably with Miller Hull architects and PAE engineers at the Bullitt Foundation (below) in Seattle — an extremely challenging place to power by solar.
In Vancouver I saw the handsomely timber-framed Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability at the University of British Columbia (below) and the overlapping leaf shapes of the Vandusen Botanical Garden, both by Perkins & Will. The Iowa Utilities Board Building, by BNIM, comes close to zero, depending little on its solar array.
Google has long promised a state-of-the-art green headquarters, but its NBBJ design, revealed in 2013, fell considerably short. Yet they have pioneered the reduction of “red list” chemicals in building products (regarded as having deleterious health effects), and the company’s market clout could really make a difference.
Hurricane Sandy was New York’s global-warming wakeup call, and the difference in the rebuilding response, compared to Katrina in 2005, is profound. Building on sustainability and water-management planning already done, the city hopes to put in place a wide variety of protection tactics that emulate natural systems, such as flood-controlling wetlands, stormwater-managing streets, and designer dunes, which may combine recreational amenity and environmental restoration with robust storm protection.
As other locations recognize their vulnerability to a more volatile climate, innovation could blossom.
Insightful design can turn today’s vexing challenges into extraordinary architecture. I have high hopes for the Cornell Applied Sciences campus, slated for Roosevelt Island, where the firms Morphosis; Weiss/Manfredi; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; and Handel Architects are collaborating to create places that encourage state of the art . . . collaboration. Ditto Columbia University’s Medical School, where Diller Scofidio & Renfro have designed a Graduate Medical education building tuned to the treatment complexities of tomorrow as a glass-wrapped cascade of study and meeting places.
I rarely single out a favorite building, but in 2013 one stood out: The Singh Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Pennsylvania by Weiss/Manfredi. In much of the structure researchers wear protective suits under glaring lights in sealed environments ruled by hyper-clean and vibration-free criteria
What a glory it would be to pull those suits off and emerge into a full-heigh atrium where sunlight pours through pin-striped glass and dances off of suspended ceiling planes that criss-cross each other with elegantly restrained sculptural bravura (below).
In what’s still a tough time, I’m glad some clients still encourage beauty to transform the prosaic things we do every day.