Tag Archives: Museum

GLENSTONE: A CONVERSATION BETWEEN ART, LANDSCAPE AND ARCHITECTURE

September 13, 2019

Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland (photo from thomasphifer.com)

To call Glenstone a mere museum is to misrepresent the power of how a visitor can experience art. The museum’s website posits, “Glenstone is a place that seamlessly integrates art, architecture, and landscape into a serene and contemplative environment.” And boy, it’s successful.

Glenstone blurs the lines between the three mediums. Know this: “Art” is not just a simple framed painting hanging on a gallery wall. At Glenstone, art is a relationship between several forces experienced as an enchanted journey through time and space.

The “Pavilions” forming the “Water Court” (photo by Anthony Poon)

For my soon to be published second book, I scribed, “Do I like playing a Beethoven piano sonata more than writing a position article on the design industry? Do I enjoy working on a large mixed-media art piece more than designing a Buddhist temple? I don’t see any such exercises as separate, or in any way, independent from each other. Artistic endeavors are not discrete. All my investigations, experiments, tests and failures fall under the shelter of a single umbrella, a simultaneous effort—that of a creative voyage with no starting point and excitingly, no end in sight . . . Music, painting, writing, architecture, and so on. For me, it is all one artistic gesture—interconnected, intertwined, inseparable.”

Compression Line, by Michael Heizer,1968/2016 (photo by Anthony Poon)

Over the years, Glenstone’s founders, Emily and Mitchell Rales, billionaire business leader and philanthropist, amassed an incredible private art collection of approximately 1,300 works from the 20th and 21st century: Twombly, Kelly, Heizer, Basquiat, Rothko, Koons, Serra, just to name a few—the Usual (but incredible) Suspects. In Potomac, Maryland, Glenstone opened in 2006 with safe and somewhat predictable Modern buildings by New York architect, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates. The museum’s name is a mash-up of the nearby Glen Road and the indigenous Cardderock stone.

Design drawing by Thomas Phifer and Partners

In late 2018, the museum entered the transcendental world stage with architect Thomas Phifer and Partners’ powerful composition of the “Pavilions” and “Water Court,” with landscape collaboratively designed by Peter Walker of Berkeley, California. Glenstone’s 230 acres transformed into a state of mind that balances art, sculpture, installations, design, nature, water, light and all good things. Glenstone challenges one of my favorite places on Earth, the 500-acre Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York.

The Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor, Braubunden, Switzerland Zumthor (photo from vals.ch)

Akin to the Minimalism of architect Peter Zumthor’s  Therme Vals Spa in Switzerland, Glenstone is dramatic and theatrical, despite its mute Pavilions. A dozen of them, each a single art experience, center around a sunken water garden. Who knew that saying nothing and being silent can say so much?  Here, an engaging and direct conversation occurs when a massive vertical wall of Cardderock stone meets the peaceful horizontal surface of reflecting water, while above is the infinity of a blue sky. Nothing more, nothing less, and yet, so much more.

Massive and poetic vertical surfaces of Carderrock stone-clad “Pavilions” (photo by Anthony Poon)

Even the museum staff are Minimalistic. Accompanying their drab grey cotton garb with pants cropped at the ankles, they each have a small name tag of slim horizontal chrome stainless steel. But the name tags remain blank!

The approach through broad landscape, the “Pavilions” in the distance like an enigmatic modern day Stonehenge (photo from glenstone.org)
Buried in nature, one comes upon the mystery Clay Houses (Boulder-Room-Holes), by Andy Goldsworthy 2007 (photo by Anthony Poon)

The overall result of Glenstone is a must-see, near-religious experience of Modern art, elemental architecture and the pastoral outdoors. Make a reservation; the museum only lets in a limited number of people per day.  And sorry, no photography allowed within the galleries.

PLEASE STOP ASKING, “RESIDENTIAL OR COMMERCIAL?”

January 26, 2018

Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Locke Pleninger)

When you meet a chef, do you ask, “Do you cook chicken or fish?”

If you did ask such a stupid question, the chef would be thinking how absurd you sound. At the same time, this chef would be thinking of the thousands of things he cooks, in addition to “chicken or fish.”

When someone meets an architect, the first (and only) question is , “Do you design residential or commercial?” Please realize that the field of architecture—that the world— is made up of much more than houses and office buildings.

The Container Yard art center, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

I would guess that “residential and commercial” architecture only comprises 5% of the types of projects we design. When one considers that architecture includes museums and galleries, bridges and highways, churches and temples, hospitals and pharmacies, schools and universities, community centers and parks, libraries and theaters, memorials and gardens, stadiums and arenas, parking structures and parking lots, etc. and etc., as well as the commonly acknowledged “residential or commercial”—architecture is everything that is designed and constructed around you. Architecture is both the blank canvas that provides for the imprint of your life, as well as the vessel that holds it.

In simply looking at my own architectural works, there are several dozen building types I have designed. What can architecture be?

An exhibition place to experience the wonders of the arts and science.

Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colorado, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

A sacred place to gather and worship.

The lobby of the River of Life Christian Church, San Jose, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Amaya)

An optimistic place of higher learning.

Harrington Learning Commons, Sorbrato Technology Center and Orradre Library, Santa Clara University, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

A sweet place to bite into candy.

Sugarfina, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

An energetic place for sports and competiion.

NFL stadium adjacent to Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California, by Anthony Poon and Greg Lombardi (w/ NBBJ)

An active place for education and emotional development.

Valley Academy of the Arts & Science, Granada Hills, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and GKK, photo by GKK)

A master planned place for growth and development.

Menlo School and Menlo College, Atherton, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

An invigorating place to sweat and recharge.

Aura Cycle, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Aura Cycle)

A public place where citizens can assemble.

Urban canopies and public plaza, Irvine, California, by Poon Design

A place of grief and remembrance.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia, by Poon Design
Student Activities Center, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Anthony Poon)

A social place for student life.

We need all the above places  (and many more) to live, and we want these places to be heartfelt. We need places to go to work, and we want these places to be comfortable and efficient. We need schools, and we want these places to be encouraging and supportive. Our neighborhoods need places to gather, and we want these places to be democratic and energized. Our communities need churches to worship in, and we want these places to be inspirational and transcendent. Our businesses need places to thrive, and we want these places to be strategic and informed. Our politicians need places to debate, and we want these places to ignite strength and influence.

So next time you meet a chef, do ask him, “What kind of cuisine do you cook?” And next time you meet an architect, ask him, “What kind of projects do you 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.