Inspired…by architecture


Today's #museumweek post combines #architectureMW and #inspirationMW and is by Chris Bazley, Antenna's own architecture buff. Take it away, Chris....


Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center
Unlike so many other great museums, this does not leap out from the crowd, shouting “I am a MUSEUM”; it does not demand an acre of grass to set it off; there is no grand ionic colonnade and very very little stone. Instead, this museum sits as part of the townscape. It’s intriguing detail invites examination but does so in a way that prompts us to look at the rest of the street around it. Indeed, it scoops up the whole street: Cleverly, the same material on the sidewalk seeps into the building as its ground floor, and then creeps up to form the entire back wall. Moving between rooms, galleries and spaces is an ethereal, other-worldly experience: We hardly notice we are traversing between stories on the ramp (contrast that with two other museum ramps: Frank Lloyd Wright at the Solomon R. Guggenheim and Gehry at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, where the museums are all about the Ramp). A wonderful museum, a great little concerto of sensual, intelligent spaces. Coming from the absolute tipping point of Zaha Hadid’s career; before this she was the Architect’s Architect – with much on paper but little built. After this, she has gone on to true greatness. But it is this building that I like the best, not least because of how it raises the whole street around it, in this – America’s most underrated city.

Cincinatti Contemporary Art Center. Creative Commons image.

Cincinatti Contemporary Art Center. Creative Commons image.


Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
John Soane was the most interesting architect practising at the turn of the nineteenth century, and he transformed his home (two average Town Houses) into a showcase of what he was capable of. And as his big talent was doing things with ‘space’, what he created were jaw-droppingly innovative interiors that play with your sense of proportion. The great critic Iain Nairn said of this place: “an experience to be had in London and nowhere else; worth traveling across a continent to see, in much the same way as the Sistine Chapel.” As if this wasn’t enough, Soane was an avid collector of everything. And it all survives, two hundred years later. To walk around the house is to enter another world. If they are not already on display, ask the stewards to show you the Piranesis (they love being asked) and gasp in amazement as they literally fold back the walls! Admission to this gem is free, and to avoid overcrowding, you may have to wait outside a few minutes. Tip: the first Tuesday of each month is opened late, and with candlelight!


Sir John Soane's Museum. Creative Commons image.

Sir John Soane's Museum. Creative Commons image.

The Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City

Like so many of the great art museums of the Mid West, there are cities in the world that have gone to war for treasures lesser than the permanent collection at The Nelson Atkins Museum. The main building is all early twentieth century bravura – and good too. But it is the new Stephen Holl extension that makes this museum an architectural wonder. From the outside, parading down the side as a grouping or feather-light pavilions and reflecting pools, they play off against the restraint of the original building. But the real wonder is inside. For those pavilions are merely light shafts into what for my money is one of the most breathtaking series of new spaces created for any museum anywhere in the world in the last ten years.   There is a bravery, an audacity in the way those ceilings are sculpted. There is an incredible sense of space more-than-defined: celebrated, explored, energised. It’s the sort of place you could spend days in.

Nelson Atkins Museum

Nelson Atkins Museum. Creative Commons Image.


Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin

As any curator will tell you, the building is so impressive that it is almost impossible to stage any art in it. Mies van der Rohe’s swansong and masterpiece, the galleries are fine enough, down in the basement. We swoon at this building for what is upstairs: the magnificent, modernist, minimalist pavilion that is Mies’s monument to himself. Go round with an architect, and marvel at how every centimetre is planned: This is not a building dedicated to freedom, even though you have more space than practically any other museum I can think of: your senses are being entirely manipulated; nothing is left to chance. Poor old Schinkel, he must have looked down on this and cursed this 20th century pretender stealing his crown. Marvellous stuff: I defy you not to bow down and worship on those steps!

Neue Nationalgalerie. Creative Commons image courtesy Hans Knips

Neue Nationalgalerie. Creative Commons image courtesy Hans Knips

The John Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

What a gift to Richard Meier: not just a building, not just an area, but an entire mountain top, all for him! This must be the only place in LA where you are forced to leave your car and take the train to the top of the hill. This is as close to a gesamtkunstwerk that the end of the 20th century allowed us to get: this is all Meier - no one else; and in return for that, he has done a great job. No monoliths: just those good old classic pavilions that are good old classic Meier  style: the architect that found his style with his first house and recognising a good thing when he saw it, never changed. You remember this place as much for the open air, for walking between those buildings, and the glass of chardonnay you drank whilst watching those teeming masses in the city below, as much as the art inside. All good, all exhilarating and fun. And when you’ve had enough, go back down to Earth, get in your car and drive along to the Skirball where you can have a more sensible experience.


Getty Center

Getty Museum. Creative Commons Image.



The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

I don’t think anyone really knows how much this all cost: The world’s greatest collection of Islamic art, in one of the world’s greatest new buildings designed by arguably the world’s greatest living architect, IM Pei. And my goodness, didn’t he have fun here. Admittedly, this does not have the epoch-changing bold simplicity of his Louvre pyramid, and this is not the National Gallery of Art – possibly his most important building. But it is a beautiful jewel of a thing: that is grand without being monstrous (and that, in this part of the world, is a supreme achievement). It’s more Mozart than Beethoven; and the ease with which IM Pei has worked with tradition Islamic forms alongside his own motifs shows an architect totally at ease with himself and his work. The space in the great hall under the domes is incredible, but so are the courtyards and the setting itself.


Museum of Islamic Art. Creative Commons image.






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