Monday, October 26, 2009

In Consideration of Scale and Context

By Maria Mortati, Sr. Exhibit Developer
"A dynamic moment in American architecture — the explosion of art museums, concert halls and performing arts centers that transformed cities across the country over the last decade — is officially over. The money has dried up, and who knows when there will be a similar boom."    
- Nicolai Ouroussoff, An American Architectural Epoch Locks Its Doors, The New York Times
In my last post, I wrote about the influence of city --> neighborhood --> architecture --> on exhibit experience in the context of a visit to the EMP. Mr. Ouroussoff’s recent article provides a bit of support to my thesis (but written on an appropriately lofty, grand level). He evaluates the success or failure of large cultural centers through the appropriate application of context and scale.

This lens belongs in all layers of the design process: revisiting, and continuously being mindful of these two powerful factors. It’s not just about aesthetics, but how those aesthetics create or engage “place” which forms an experience.
“But their success has as much to do with context and scale as with the quality of the architecture. Millennium Park and the Miami cultural district abut relatively healthy, historically rich urban districts. And neither is bigger than a few city blocks.
‘...the question has been not only how to create vibrant public spaces but how to repair social, racial and economic scars that are decades old.”
Makes sense that the role of good (considered) design would be thoughtfully related to the constituents of a neighborhood. If they are your audience. 

Which gets to his final point. Mr. Ouroussoff closes suggesting that consideration of scale and context is key to success, and can create a more egalitarian experience for the region a project lives in:
“The failures in Dallas and Los Angeles, in the end, have less to do with too much creative freedom, the quality of the buildings and the master plan, or even the basic concept of an arts district, than with scale and context. They reflect the long battle between those who want to tear down old barriers and those who simply want to replace them with new ones. Solving that conflict will be left to a future epoch.”
However, I think that a good master plan must take this into consideration. Determining whether those are bridges or barriers is something which ideally comes out of that process.

PS: If you don't have time to read the article, there is an historic overview of the of arts complexes here. While it includes a science center or two, the de Young (Herzog de Meuron) & Academy of Sciences (Renzo Piano) campus is conspicuously absent... along with the EMP.

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