The following is an abridged version of an open letter by Chicago architect and urban planner Marshall Brown, which was originally presented at the The Design Competition Conference by the GSD and the Van Alen Institute. It follows a previous comment by the author for AN about the state of design competitions in the 21st century. It is in direct response to the Guggenheim Helsinki Competition, which attracted 1,715 submissions before the winner was announced yesterday.
My Dear Colleagues,
I would like to extend sincere congratulations for your recent achievements and the recognition it has brought to your practices. I suppose you may be wondering about the cause for this letter since, at least that I can recall, we have never formally met. One year ago I wrote an essay for AN that criticized the current state of architectural competitions. It concluded with the melodramatic, yet also sincere invitation for likeminded architects to join me in “early, complete, and permanent retirement” from such contests. In the meantime I have mostly managed to follow through on my retreat from the design competition industry, despite several invitations from colleagues to collaborate.
Up-and-coming architect Frank Gehry recently sat down with the New York Times to discuss his Guggenheim museum under construction on Saadiyat Island near Abu Dhabi. The eccentric or idiosyncratic or whimsical structure totals 450,000 square feet, making it 12 times larger than the Guggenheim in New York. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is defined by multiple cones that Gehry says were influenced by teepees because of how they remove hot air. The design is also supposed to evoke the domes of mosques around the Middle East. Although that’s a bit harder to discern.
As AN recently reported, the Guggenheim Foundation has unveiled more than 1700 proposals for its planned campus in Helsinki. All of these submissions have been kept anonymous and made available to the public through an online gallery which displays two renderings and a brief description for each plan. Given the amount of proposals the Guggenheim received, the gallery can be a little—let’s say—hard on the eyes. If you’re not up for scrolling through all of it, we picked out some interesting renderings that stood out to us. Yes, we undoubtedly missed some good ones in the process—there are 1,700 after all.
As we’ve mentioned before, the biggest competition in town is not in the United States. Virtually every design firm in California and everywhere else has entered the competition for the Guggenheim Helsinki. Proposals were due on September 10, and Eavesdrop received a secret picture of the storeroom where they are being kept. Let’s just say it is FULL. There appears to be several hundred submissions. Only six of the proposals will advance to stage two of the competition, a list that will be announced later this fall. The winning entry will eventually be chosen next June. So stay tuned, there’s plenty of Guggenheim madness left! (And why doesn’t the Guggenheim open a branch in Los Angeles already?!)
The Guggenheim will launch a competition in early June to design their new branch in Helsinki. Working alongside the Finnish Association of Architects, the Foundation is seeking proposals for a currently vacant site alongside the city’s South Harbor. The competition comes three years after the city expressed interest in a Guggenheim outpost. But, according to the Art Newspaper, despite the competition, a new branch is not certain. The paper reported, “The Guggenheim announced that a decision to go ahead with the project would be taken after the architectural competition is completed.” The competition comes as the Guggenheim faces heated backlash for their planned museum in Abu Dhabi, which has a dismal record on workers’ rights.
Nearly 50 activists recently took over the Guggenheim’s spiraling balconies to protest the museum’s planned branch in Abu Dhabi. The protesters, who are affiliated with Gulf Labor and Occupy Museums, dropped pamphlets, rolled out banners, and hung a manifesto to criticize Abu Dhabi’s poor record on workers’ rights.
Tomorrow, June 21, is the summer solstice. On the occasion, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will open the doors on a major solo show of the work of James Turrell, called simply James Turrell. It’s a fitting day to open an exhibition on the American artist. Since the 1960s, Turrell has developed a diverse body of work that uses light as material and medium. The centerpiece of the show is Aten Reign, a site-specific installation that fills Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous rotunda. Made from a series of interlocking fabric cones that relate to the Guggenheim’s interior ramps, Aten Reign interlaces the prevailing daylight with subtly changing color fields produced by concealed LED fixtures. Viewed from below, on reclining benches or lying flat on the floor, with the gentle bubbling of the Guggenheim’s fountain providing aural accompaniment, the installation provides a meditative, perception altering experience.
Gutai: Splendid Playground
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York
Through May 8
“Don’t imitate others!” and “Engage in the newness!” are just two of the signature slogans of the Gutai Art Association, founded in July 1954 by Jiro Yoshihara. The Gutai—which translates to “concreteness”—artists dared to breakthrough the boundaries presented by traditional Japanese art. As their name suggests, the artists directly engaged with concrete materials (such as remote-control toys, sand, light bulbs, and paper screens) to create a new, never before seen, kind of art. The creative genius of these avant-garde artists manifested itself in the form of various mediums including, but not limited to, painting, installation and performance art, experimental film, and environmental art. Gutai: Splendid Playground explores the works of these artists, created over a span of two-decades, and features an enormous installation by Motonaga Sadamasa composed of a series of plastic tubes filled with colored water. The structure, created specifically for the Guggenheim’s rotunda, invites visitors to look up and use these “brush strokes” to create their own individual composition.
“What if we decided we needed a little more Guggenheim?” asked New York- and Athens-based group Oiio Architecture Office. In a shocking announcement on its Facebook page, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum today disclosed that it will be expanding—vertically: “We are pleased to announce that beginning today, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will begin construction to expand the original Frank Lloyd Wright design by an additional 13 floors.” The museum has always faced spatial limitations,and as the Whitney has taken to expanding over the High Line, renderings for Oiio Architecture Office show the Guggenheim rising vertically from its Fifth Avenue site, continuing the building’s signature spiral form. While this expansion is sure to garner criticism from preservationists, as the buildings is currently listed with both the National Register of Historic Places and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, representatives from the museum have stated that the proposed addition will respond respectfully Wright’s original design.