Tag Archives: Guggenheim

BLURRING THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN ART, SCULPTURE, AND ARCHITECTURE

December 25, 2020

(photo by Hunter Kerhart)

Architecture can—and most definitely should—be artistic. Masterpieces such as both Guggenheim museums, in New York City and Bilbao, Spain, are called “works of art” by pretty much everyone. Interesting that a legendary work of art such as the Monet’s Water Lilies would never be referred to as an exquisite “work of architecture.” Some sculptures on the other hand, such as those by Richard Serra, are indeed called architectural.

Sequence, by Richard Serra, 2006, SFMOMA, San Francisco, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Poon Design was honored to be commissioned by two global hospitality brands, the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at the 27-acre L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles. The Ritz stands proud as one of the highest standards of quality, earning the colloquial adjective that defines sophistication and elegance, “Ritzy.”

At the existing porte cochere and main entrance to the 54-level luxury hotel and residential high-rise, our client challenged us to replace the hundred foot long fence with something innovative. Not only was the existing fence not at all Ritzy, it was more akin to a low end motel—the fence barely better than a commercial chain link screen. Failing dramatically, the 9-foot tall fence was supposed to accomplished several things, most importantly: provide security and privacy to the residents and visitors who comprise high net worth individuals, Hollywood stars, celebrated athletes, and the like.

Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at L.A. Live, Los Angeles, California (photo from gensler.com)
(photo by Hunter Kerhart)

Alongside creating a unique privacy scrim, the Ritz-Carlton gave Poon Design additional design objectives:

– Present a notable front door for a world-renowned brand,

– Provide security to the residents and their luxury cars arriving at the porte cochere,

– While providing privacy, allow natural light to enter the porte cochere, meaning, not a solid fortress-like wall,

– Screen out the movie complex across the street which brought glaring lights, noisy customers, and trash, and finally,

– Establish a friendly face, but one that can protect the hotel from bystanders, loiterers, and paparazzi—again, but not a fortress-like wall.

(photo by Hunter Kerhart)

The assignment was a triple-threat challenge of architecture, sculpture, and art. In response, we designed an 87-foot-long statement of contour and texture. Our 260 shaped steel fins at 10’-6” tall guard the Ritz-Carlton, while projecting a distinguished curbside appeal and allowing in dappled sunlight.

Plan, elevation, and detail

As a visitor moves alongside this wall of ever-changing angled slats, her views, perception and exposure to light constantly and mysteriously change. Even a stationary car on the other side of our wall appears to be in motion.

(photos by Poon Design)

In addition to the uplights in the ground, the steel’s powder-coated silver surface captures the constantly changing colors of the theater’s flashing signs and lights from across the street, and reflects it back as an everchanging light show.

Is it architecture because it is a mere freestanding wall—an element of a building? Is it sculpture that happens to serve many programmatic functions from security to trade dress? Or is it art because it’s sublime presence surpasses the base purpose of being just a piece of architecture?

A future design to come to enhance the streetscape at the Ritz-Carlton, by Poon Design

MUSEUM VS. MUSEUM

June 5, 2015

The Petersen Automotive Museum (rendering by KPF)

Late 2015, Los Angeles will welcome two new museums: the Petersen Automotive Museum and the art museum simply called, The Broad. Before discussing these civic structures, let’s step back to the architecture of museums in general.

Traditionally, museums are empty vessels that come to life when artwork is inserted. This museum architecture is a neutral backdrop.

In opposition to this premise, architect Frank Gehry’s 1997 Guggenheim Museum is a work of art itself, and symbiotically co-exists with the art and sculptural installations. Considered one of the most influential living architects, Gehry created for Bilbao in Spain a design that counters the classical muted environment for art. By doing so, this museum has been hailed as one of the greatest buildings in current history.

The Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, by Frank Gehry (photo by Miro Hotel), The Guggenheim in New York, New York, by Frank Lloyd Wright (photo by jdglek)
The Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, by Frank Gehry (photo by Miro Hotel), The Guggenheim in New York, New York, by Frank Lloyd Wright (photo by jdglek)

In yet another approach, when Frank Lloyd Wright completed his Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 1959, visitors were stunned. No defined galleries existed, but rather, a continuous sloping floor of exhibits spiraled up six stories.

Complaints from curators were immediate. If they were to hang art parallel to the ground as one typically does, then it would be crooked to the sloping floor of the museum. But if the curators were to hang art parallel to the sloping floor, then the art would be at an angle—a warped viewing for visitors.

When Wright was questioned, he responded with indifference: the curators’ concerns were insignificant. The architect proclaimed that visitors have come to see art. And here, the art is his architecture, the building itself. Not the negligible objects within.

The Broad (rendering by DS+R)
The Broad (rendering by DS+R)

Back to the present. The soon-to-arrive Petersen museum, at a price tag of $125 million for 300,000 square feet, is designed by New York-based, corporate giant Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. The new Broad museum, $140 million for 120,000 square feet, is designed by New York-based creative studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

(I will not deliberate on the obvious question and necessary outcry: why are these two Los Angeles museums created by New York architects?)

For both the Petersen and the Broad, the large buildings present an aggressive exterior. Both facades are radical and alluring.

With a muscular honeycomb skin of precast concrete, the Broad is an enigmatic and commanding building. Called the “veil” by the architects, this elusive skin looks to the future, with an unintentional throwback to the 60’s office buildings that also employed modular concrete exteriors.

The Broad exterior detail (photo by Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times)
The Broad exterior detail (photo by Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times)

At the Petersen, a bizarre facade of seductive stainless steel ribbons wraps a bright red building. According to the architects, this design “evokes the imagery of speed and the organic curves of a coach-built automobile.” Though appropriate as a design theme for a museum of cars, I frankly don’t see it. It appears to be like an uncomfortable extra-terrestrial armor, instead of the sophisticated lines of a Citroen or Alfa Romeo.

Here’s one big thing that separates the two exteriors. The sculptural outside of the Broad is a beautifully patterned concrete fabric that is integral to the structure of the building. Also, this “veil” cleverly diffuses sunlight into the museum, providing bright and stimulating gathering spaces.

The endless ribbons of the Petersen are merely tacked on, superficially applied like mascara. Not even a part of the building’s structure, the zippy ribbons have no impact on the actual journey through the museum, other than the initial impact of a billboard that you see, read, and pass by.

The Petersen exterior detail (photo by urbanize.LA)
The Petersen exterior detail (photo from  urbanize.LA)

When the two museums are unveiled to the public, the quality of the interiors, the scale and character of the galleries, and the voyage from one exhibit to the next will all be judged.

Today’s vote of confidence is for The Broad. I see the pioneering vision that architects DS+R have created in their other outstanding works of civic architecture, such as the impressive High Line, a one-and-a-half-mile long, outdoor recreational space and social connector, hovering over the streets of Manhattan.

KPF’s Petersen museum tries hard with their automobile metaphor, and perhaps too hard. This design is a dangerous one-move dance number. At first glance, I am impressed with the self-assurance of form and color. Later, I am already fatigued by the architecture’s brashness, wishing there was some subtlety and depth.

For both projects, I enjoy the qualities of strength. Both architecture companies possess courage. Though some critics are tired of “statement” architecture—the headline grabbing designs—a museum needs to be exactly this. Museums are one of those rare city structures that speaks to the broadest community. Standing for generations, these buildings house the great minds of our artistic present and past.

© Poon Design Inc.