Life Without Buildings’ Man-On-The Street Ethen Wood stopped in to Renzo Piano’s New California Academy of Sciences, a building described by New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff as “a blazingly uncynical embrace of the Enlightenment values of truth and reason. Its Classical symmetry — the axial geometry, the columns framing a central entry — taps into a lineage that runs back to Mies van der Rohe’s 1968 Neue Nationalgalerie and Schinkel’s 1828 Altes Museum in Berlin and even further, to the Parthenon.” Continue reading for more museum photos—including the new Maya Lin installation—from last weekend’s members-only preview; surely the calm before the storm that will the insanely crowded public opening on Saturday.
[image via flickr usr thehighlandway]
When I saw the photos last week of Alain Robert, “the French Spider-man,” scaling the side of Renzo Piano’s New York Times building, I was immediately struck by a single thought…well, 2 thoughts really. 1) That. Is. Amazing. 2) If superheroes were to exist, they would appear incredibly insignificant relative to the enormity of the cites they have so solemnly sworn to protect. I mean really, seriously insignificant. So often, our heroes are presented as larger-than-life characters; near-omniscient giants towering over buildings and streets. The reality however, is much more prosaic, as Monsieur Robert so kindly demonstrates. A single man is tiny. A hero, even of the “super” variety, is tiny. No matter how powerful, they will always be humbled by the buildings of a city. Take for example, the following two images:
In the wake of the new MoMA opening, the Whitney Museum unveiled the model for their new expansion by Renzo Piano. [Drumroll please]….its a white volume connected to the existing museum by glass walkways! TADA! Although perhaps somewhat…um, understated, (to say the least) the new addition stands in quiet homage to Marcel Breuer’s building, leaving the original structure untouched,while adding special exhibition galleries, education space, an auditorium, research center, a paper study room, library, and administrative space. Contextually, the addition is scaled to the neighboring residential brownstones, and doesn’t significantly change the alter image of the Whitney. Something Rem Koolhaas’ proposal failed to do.
Koolhaas reimagined the entire museum, even re-dubbing it the “NeWhitney.” In his newest book “Content,” Koolhaas says that his Whitney “…was a native New Yorker: shaped by zoning laws, surrounded by Landmarks, killed by conservatism.” I think, however, that there is a difference between conservatism and respect. Although, in my opinion, Koolhaas’ strategy worked at IIT, I don’t think it would have been successfull in this instance. Reacting to Mies and the IIT campus, is a lot different than reacting to Breuer and a Manhattan block of Brownstones.