A Very Special Museum

Hubert Damish, "A Very Special Museum" in Skyline: The Narcissistic City (2001).   1   2   3

24. Philippe Boudon, "L’échelle du schème," in Images et imaginaires d'architecture, exhibition catalogue (Paris: Centre Georges-Pompidou, 1984), 49-51.

25. This is confirmed, a posteriori, by the skyscraper designed by Norman Foster for the Commerzbank in Frankfurt, conceived as a "natural tube" (that is, the exact opposite of the Tower of Babel), and which concludes the series begun by Jean Preuvé's design for the National Education Ministry. See Norman Foster & Partners, "II projetto del grattacielo della Commerzbank a Francoforte," Casabella no. 626 (September 1995): 4-17.

The fact that almost ten years later the exhibition "Manifeste," mounted by the Centre Pompidou to assess its own activity, included, in addition to many related drawings, some very beautiful working models by contemporary architects, and that at the same moment a gallery specializing in such objects opened in Paris, evidences an evolution consistent with the tendency I have been describing: that of an interrogation of what design-work--architecture as work--is, and what it might be. It is no longer a question merely of describing an opposition between the real practices of architects and a set of imaginary practices, but of understanding, by means of the museum, the nature of the relationship between conception and realization. To put this differently, using, with some hesitation, the language of "deconstruction": of using the museum to raise doubts about the supposed opposition between the art of building and building itself, between architecture and construction. And this, not to confuse the two or to reduce the one to the other, or even to suggest that the silent order of the built is superseded by a rhetorical order specific to architecture, but to improve our understanding of the nature, actual or potential (the latter being a persistent concern), with regard to architecture, of construction. As Philippe Boudon noted in the catalogue of the exhibition "Images et imaginaires d'architecture," there is a radical difference between an architectural drawing whose sole function is to communicate or represent, and an architectural drawingthat serves to advance the process of elaboration, and whose referent, while part of the developmental process, is nonetheless subject to specifically structural constraints insofar as it is meant to be "realizable.24 But the museum, by abstracting the objects it receives from their contexts and delivering them from their functions, weaves between them new relations, ones that have the advantage of displacing the questions of construction and realization, so as to inscribe them within another dimension, one that is more strictly historical.

I will cite only one example: Rem Koolhaas's design for the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, the "Tres Grande Bibliothèque." A title ("Tres Grande Bibliothèque") that in itself posits an entire program, one that is almost Babelian. But a design (Koolhaass) that seems illegible, at least when judged solely in terms of representation. Just as, at first encounter, the articulation between the model and the sectional views presentfd to us seems illegible. But that is because it was left to each individual to perform in turn, on their own initiative, work that the competition jurors did not realize they had to do, or that they were unable to do, caught, stuck as they were--the design they selected demonstrates this--in what Rem Koolhaas delights in calling the "semantic nightmare" of architecture. This design (Koolhaas's) will come to be seen, I dare say, as one of the great designs of the century's final years, one of those that most profoundly regenerates our idea of architecture. It merits this status not because of its proposed image of a library--Dominique Perrault shilled for his competition-winning design by describing it as "a library for France and a public square for Paris": as though a library should be a public square and a public square could function as a library--but because of the fiction it enforces of a built void, one inscribed within its very architectural volumes, the latter having been ripped or perforated by it through and through. As in another design, one that likewise now figures in the collection of Centre de Création Industrielle (CCI), the one by Norman Foster for the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank in Hong Kong. And as in, already, a very beautiful design that one would also like to see enter this collection, the one by Jean Preuvé for the National Education Ministry, which was to have been built at La Defense but which miscarried-in one of those failures endemic in ill-comprehending democracies--thanks to the bureaucrats assigned to oversee its construction. These three designs-only one of which was built--constituting a series or group of transformations that has paradigmatic value.25

The CCI collection includes a few fragments by Jean Preuvé that are essentially structural in nature, like those deemed appropriate for nineteenth-century museums. We might regard as symbolic the absence, the lack, of this great design, itself built around a central void, the tower's central core having been subdivided and relegated to the building's four corners. Inside-out architecture, if you will, like a good deal of earlier modern architecture, and, like it, of interest to readers of Borges. An architecture such as we might have hoped for had things played out differently, if not in the National Education Ministry, then in the new Bibliothéque Nationale de France. Reduced as we are, momentarily, to Babel, we can only reread "Aleph" and dream, if not of the library then at least of the museum now being planned, hoping that, like a painting produced in accordance with Delacroix's views, it will retain something of the freedom of its preparatory sketch.




Quondam © 2016.08.05