May 11, 2015

Renzo Piano's Arc

Here are some thoughts (a crit) regarding Renzo Piano and his design of the new Whitney Museum in New York City:

Centre Pompidou

Le Corbusier referred to his Villa Savoy in this way: "Une maison est une machine-à-habiter", as a machine for living in. Architects Piano, Rogers and Franchini described the Centre Pompidou as "a communications machine". Renzo Piano proceeded in his career to express this idea in a particular poetic architectural language.

Cy Twombly Pavilion

Of the several iterations of Piano's realization of the Corbusian machine (in examples such as the Menil Collection Beyeler Foundation), the Cy Twombly Pavilion is the best and most elegant. The parti* is clear and concise. Expressions of human habitation is archaic and eternal with echoes of ancient stone masonry, elemental and primal. The realm of the machine is a mediating technological layer separating human habitation from the raw environment. This mechanical layer is as robust as it is hidden and only furtively revealed. The realm of the machine mediates between man and nature.

Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA

Variants of this mediating parti were exercised in the Piano oeuvre but with less poetic clarity. In the Broad Contemporary Museum at LACMA Los Angeles (BCAM), Piano returned to the parti, but muddled its lucidness by misapplying it to a multistory structure. The technological membrane roof is a good one story solution, a multistory program requires a different approach, a different parti. The capacious floors below the top floor are not graced by the mediating technological membrane, they have a generic architectural expression. The floors below are an afterthought. This problem is awkwardly addressed with an elaborated metal circulation system (painted red, no less!) of external stairs and escalators that bring the public to the main address of the top floor where the parti establishes itself there and only there.

Whitney Museum of American Art

The problem of the misapplied parti persists in the new Whitney Museum. The unique solution of the mediating technological membrane can only be applied to the smallest of galleries on the top floor of the museum. As it is in BCAM, the circulation system delivers the public to the main event, as necessarily modest as it is even so in expression. The awkwardness of the generic expression in the lower floored galleries is ameliorated with the generous terraces that extend outward to Manhattan. The grandeur of the architecture is delivered by common sense architectural solutions and less by the particular vision of Renzo Piano, which is as yet restricted by a parti better suited to a single story program.

* A parti is a concise expression, usually geometric, of an architectural scheme and design.

Posted by Dennis at May 11, 2015 2:40 PM

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