PRESENT IS DIALOGUE
I am not sure how many times I have visited the Kimbell…sometimes alone just to sketch, with friends to see a travelling exhibit, as a newly minted architectural student, then leading my own students years later, and most importantly a special visit once with my daughter. But with the news and images, May 27, of the museum’s expansion, I recalled my good fortune of admiring and facilitating Daniel Libeskind’s first visit to Kahn’s masterwork and the reverence he showed for the place. [curious? check out “Driving Mr. Libeskind | Part One”]
Reading Ouroussoff’s review in the NYTimes last week and recalling the conversations I had with Mr. Libeskind almost ten years ago, I’ll admit my mind wandered… “What if Libeskind were Piano in some alternate reality?” With the discussions of Kahn, and his perceived intentions with the Kimbell, could Daniel Libeskind or in this case Renzo Piano deliver an appropriate response to arguably one of the masterworks of the 20th Century?
We entered that day through the loading dock -- joking that even the public entering on that side of the structure from the small surface parking area rarely realized this was counter to Kahn’s intended entry sequence. Maybe it was Libeskind’s irreverence to certain convention, but I soon realized the mechanics of the museum were also of interest and not off limits to us this day.
What would Libeskind do? Likely he would also generate an elaborate sequence of entry from the subterranean parking structure to an intermundium or area between the two worlds of the new and the old galleries. In reviewing Piano’s proposition, I am struck by the response to entry and remain uneasy at this proposed solution. Noting I see this oddly as a foray into the world of Libeskind of juxtaposition, reinterpretation, and deconstruction. Though I believe arriving between these two worlds gives rise to an uneasy balance, a purgatory of sorts. The parti embraces deconstruction of entry as it relates to the history of this place. The first visit upon its completion in 2013 there will be many a weary disciple of Kahn unsure of which path of worship to take.
Incidentally, at the time of our curator-led tour, we, like so many other architecture junkies, eventually exited the building, walked out to the lawn, turned on our respective heels, and returned along Kahn’s intended route, reentering the museum and continuing our tour. Mr. Libeskind’s Jewish Museum would officially open with exhibits in September just as other fateful events would unfold in New York. Later he would tackle museum projects in England and more recently an expansion to Gio Ponti’s Museum in Denver. I enjoyed his quick wit and realized his architecture is duly informed by his insatiable curiosity and musically tuned mind. We talked of seeing the world differently and of deconstruction. He spoke of his affinity for the museum program and his disappointment at the unrealized Victoria and Albert expansion in London. Renzo Piano in Texas alone has three other successful museums and will undoubtedly create an energy efficient and technologically advanced addition to the Kimbell Museum. But the restraint shown in those previous site specific and stand-alone responses does not appear present in Fort Worth. Nor would I like to see a return to the light in the Cy Twombly, the evenness of the light in that space appears to negate it as a material. Hence counter to Kahn’s response at the Kimble and elsewhere. Piano’s proposed roof system appears to be a hybridization of lessons learned at the Menil, Nasher, and Cy Twombly. The feeling of light in the space we will only know when we visit and…we will most certainly visit.
In closing, consider where Piano’s subtle parlay into a world of Libeskind’s deconstruction falls apart: his choice of glass…Ando respectfully, quietly and gracefully acknowledged Kahn but a street divides them. The Modern politely waves at the Kimbell. Piano who knew Kahn, chooses a dialogue on this “sacred” site in a material other than concrete and misses the singular proposition of this material...in this setting... in this sense of place...a dialogue between master and student...past and present. If I would have one question for Mr. Piano, it would be:
Why not? Maybe Daniel will ask him after his next visit.
About the author:
Jamie Crawley, AIA, LEED AP, joined the office of Hamilton & Associates in May 2010 as Director of Architecture. Since 2005, he has served as lead designer and project manager for projects in a variety of sectors including public/civic, commercial, education, residential, and industrial throughout North, Central, and South Texas. Formerly a full-time Visiting Assistant Professor of Architecture, he continues to participate and speak at industry conferences on architecture, sustainability, advocacy, social media, and education. He currently serves as a member of the TSA New Media Committee and will be moderating a panel on “Purpose of Social Media” at the TSA Convention in October 2010. BLOG: atxarchitect | TWITTER: @ha_architecture