Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New York's New Museum

Hot on the heels of Boston’s newest home for contemporary art, the ICA, the New Museum in New York City is scheduled to open on December 1 and should provoke many comparisons to the Diller Scofidio + Renfro museum located on Boston’s waterfront. Both contemporary art museums outgrew their former makeshift homes and decided to make a bold public statement with their new digs. The New Museum, designed by the Japanese firm SANAA which consists of Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa, will be the first major art museum in the city’s modern history to be constructed in downtown Manhattan (below 14th street). Located in the Bowery district, it is situated amongst many diverse lower Manhattan neighborhoods.

The New Museum website says, “Our building project is already catalyzing the transformation of the fabled Bowery. We are proud to be making this contribution to New York and the revitalization of Downtown Manhattan.”

The ICA and the New Museum share many programmatic similarities as well as an overall size of 60,000sf including 18,000sf of gallery space and additional theaters, cafes, classrooms and a media lounge. Boston’s ICA relies on a large cantilevered box both functionally – to hold the galleries – and aesthetically – to make its main architectural statement. New York’s New Museum will be a seven-story composition of boxes, shifted off-axis laterally in varying directions to create cantilevers and setbacks that filter daylight into the interiors and provide views out to the city. A large balcony on the top floor will offer distinct views of New York. Although mainly windowless, the New Museum’s architects excel at creating a building with an air of lightness and transparency that can be seen in the renderings. In the architect’s words:

"The solution emerged through an extensive period of trial and error. We made numerous study models based upon the New Museum's program and the demands of the site, the zoning envelope. First we arrived at the notion of the boxes themselves; each one represents a specific piece of the program developed by the Museum. Then we tried shifting the boxes to render the inside of the building more accommodating and open, with more possibilities for daylight to enter spaces and views to appear at various points in the interiors.

"We designed the building from the inside out, based upon our understanding of the Museum's needs. Because of the kind of art the Museum shows and the curatorial approach they take, we wanted to design simple spaces - spaces without columns and with a lot of possibilities for different configurations, for placement of temporary dividing walls, and so forth - that would provide the widest range of options. We do not believe that a building should overwhelm or compete with the art presented within it, particularly when it comes to contemporary art. So we have tried to make spaces that are inviting but straightforward."

Whether you prefer one over the other or love to hate them both, the only way to truly know is to go. The ICA has a year of use behind it and the New Museum will be open in the beginning of December. Each museum shows a very different response to both site and context by clearly addressing it and creating a vision for the future of their respective institutions and surrounding neighborhoods.

New Museum
235 Bowery (between Stanton and Rivington Streets, at the head of Prince Street)
New York City

Architect: Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa SANAA LTD
Building Project Fact Sheet.
More photos of the New Museum and other works by SANAA here, via Flickr.

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