Queens Museum of Art Expansion StrategyNew York, 2001
Materials: Steel Plate Basin within Steel Suspension Net Techniques: CNC Milling, Vacuum-Forming, Analog Modeling Dimensions: 400' x 800'
Rhythm is originally the rhythm of the feet.
Our strategy for the physical and conceptual expansion of the Queens Museum of Art shapes the Museum's future as a leading institution for the exhibition of emerging and alternative forms of art and performance. In concert with this, our scheme provides an extensive infrastructure to promote various forms of public assembly. We propose a complex within the existing envelope comprised of a layered set of structures, the spaces and surfaces of which amplify and express the dynamics inherent within large groups of people. In this way, the Museum's infrastructure will draw upon the patterns, rhythms, and formations generated through crowd behavior to create visible yet transitory structures within and around those of the built environment. Exhibition, then, becomes an activity immersed within a larger, more variegated field of intensified public gathering. Moreover, the overt physicality of the infrastructure we propose requires that the exhibition and consumption of art move beyond the standard confines of cerebral interpretation and into the realm of the body. This seems appropriate given the increasingly dynamic atmospheres created with new forms of artistic expression. In a sense, the appreciation of art has always been about the experiencing of surface, and the evolution of art has largely been a matter of the extension and changing complexions of its surfaces. Our scheme promotes the expansion of these surfaces into and through those of the museum, the same surfaces across which an increasingly engaged spectator moves.
Sloped and stepped surfaces have long been used in architecture and urbanism to modulate the flow of bodies through space. These devices imbue spatial experience with overt, even muscular, physicality. This thickening of the physiological atmosphere is often critical to the successful design and planning of public spaces and institutions. Indeed, among the most dynamic civic spaces in New York City are the entry to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the open fields of Central Park. With this observation as a point of departure, our approach to the reconfiguration of Queens Museum involves the implementation of a large, pleated surface designed for a variety of different types of occupation.
The variegated surface is slung from the existing structural system (augmented as necessary) and supported by a suspension net. The surface is both vast and variegated, qualities required for the generation of an effective "exteriority" within the Museum. In a very real sense, this structure draws sensibilities and behaviors typically associated with exteriority into the building. This "live surface" produces an environment that, in places, is free of the confining associations attached to the modern "white box" and other forms of standard exhibition. The freedom of this internalized exteriority lies in its ability to tap into the resonance between the fluctuating rhythms of crowd formations and the increasingly dynamic atmospheres created with new forms of art, performance, and event.
Exploded Axonometric (primary components)
New roof extends to edges of existing envelope, unifying old and new and strengthening existing building proportions. Pleat pattern resonates with rhythms of multi-purpose surface and suspension net, producing a thickened visual atmosphere. Changing density of translucent pleats creates differentiated lighting conditions on surface below.
Multi-purpose stepped surface provokes various patterns of public occupation and movement in conjunction with structured and unstructured events occurring upon it. Crowd formations become events unto themselves.
Inserted within the existing envelope and structural system, two stacked peripheral volumes contain long term programs requiring fixed organization. Functions include permanent collections and exhibits having standard "white box" formatting and display requirements.
Existing footprint, envelope and structural system is retained. Current roof over double-high volume removed to provide room for new pleated surface and roof. Main entry remains at center of east facade, though existing cylindrical airlock is removed. Children's entry located at north facade, and service entry remains at west facade. Existing dividing wall on ground level removed, providing a large, flexible central space to accommodate temporary exhibitions and less structured events. Underside of live surface overhead generates internal unity and sectional intensification - a cloud formation above the main volume and Panorama.
The general diagram of the proposed expansion blurs the distinction between less structured, more dynamic forms of public gathering and movement typically associated with exterior environments (especially when related to civic institutions,) and more structured behaviors found inside most museum environments. It is granted that some necessity for this model remains and is retained in the proposed expansion. However, given the rapid evolution of contemporary forms of art and performance combined with the rise of a culture more attuned to active events than to passive observation, it is critical that the standard model be reconsidered.
The organizational lines of the roof, stepped surface, and structural suspension net resonate visually and experientially. This rhythmic correlation between elements generates shifting specificities within the spaces of the building, activating its surfaces. Layered synchronicities work to blend and blur the distinctions between art objects and events, the exhibition infrastructure in place to display them, and the Museum visitors themselves. The same structures that modulate the movement of people also affect artistic expression, invigorating and extending the acts of exhibition and observation.
Part of the problem of the "white box" as applied to museum design is more fundamental than that of its privileging certain forms and periods of art over others. Aside from these affiliations, the white box has also come to symbolize solitary reflection and passive consumption of art, promoting a kind of alienation of the individual from the very masses the museum seeks to collect. We feel that it is possible and, in fact, necessary to avoid this form of alienated collectivity in favor of more open and dynamic forms of public gathering. Changing cultural sensibilities, more diverse museum-going demographics, and new forms of art and performance demand a built environment that integrates and amplifies the physical and social relations between people.