Stirling's Muses Part I

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To ultimately resolve the issue of the Neue Staatsgalerie's "facelessness," it is necessary to examine one final connection between Stirling's and Schinkel's museums, which relates to the porch wall behind the colonnade of the Altes Museum that originally held two long murals depicting the narrative history of culture. The murals, destroyed at the end of World War II, no longer exist, yet Vidler refers to this wall as "the true face of Schinkel's building13." Moreover, it is a "true face" behind a "screen." The row of trees in front of Stirling's museum also creates a screen that veils its true face, and, like the porch wall in Berlin, the Stuttgart "wall" also displays a narrative history, though not of culture, but of architecture. The historical "quotations and allusions14" of the Staatsgalerie's front are plentiful: Egyptian cornice, Romanesque window, Constructivist canopy, proto-Deconstructionist window, Roman rotunda, Corbusian ramps, High-tech guardrails, Loosian facade, traditional masonry throughout, and, with the eventual overgrowth of vegetation, Piranesian ruin. As a whole, the composite references, similar in scope to those that Stirling himself recognized in Hawkmoor's Church at Spitalfields, deliver a real and 3-dimensional panorama of architectural history, and it is perhaps this shared notion of historical narrative that, above all else, patently locks the connection between Stirling's Staatsgalerie and Schinkel's Altes Museum.


Detail of one of the two murals originally on the porch wall of the Altes Museum.






Partial elevation of the Staatsgalerie's front facade.


Although the evidence strongly suggests an intentional patrimony on Stirling's part between Schinkel's Altes Museum and his own museum design in Stuttgart, some may still doubt whether Stirling's intentions were the same as those outlined above. Further proof of Stirling's deliberate reenactment of Schinkel's design, however, comes with looking at Stirling's first museum design for a German city, the Museum for Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf.



13The true face of Schinkel's building, indeed, is set behind the colonnade, a wall paneled to receive a narrative history of culture, pierced in the center to provide access to the museum and the stair to the second floor. A facade hidden, then, behind a screen; the "face," however veiled . . .
Anthony Vidler, "Losing Face" in The Architectural Uncanny - Essays in the Modern Unhomely (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992), p.91.

14The following quotations all describe Stirling's use of historical reference, particularly with regard to the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart:
Stirling's architecture is always brilliant, and occasionally dazzlingly so. Constantly handling his modes of expression in varied--perhaps deceptive--ways, he deploys playfulness in displacements and distortions; irony in his metaphors and motifs; and powerful forces of persuasion as his quotations and allusions draw us into the embrace of his imaginative, and at once concrete, world steadily communicating his refreshingly independent, never imitative, conceptions of the continuity of space. Rigorous and minute analysis of all the factors involved in a project time and time again demonstrate the impressive maturity that succeeds in manifesting all this in his designs. . . . Nothing exemplifies the perfection of Stirling's technique more than the acme of his oeuvre, the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart . . .
Francesco Dal Co, "Development of Stirling's Style" in Recent Work of James Stirling Michael Wilford and Associates (Tokyo: a+u Publishing Co., Inc., 1990), p. 11.




Finally, there is the theme of stylistic eclecticism. Here there is neither frivolity now regression. The simultaneous references to various vocabularies does not interfere with the unity of the composition. This is because each allusion applies only to isolated elements that do not intervene in the general concept of the work, and because these references become ironical because of the contradictions between vocabulary and technological executions.
It is difficult to find another building that conveys, with such perfection, a linguistic coherence and faithfulness to the syntax of the most radical avante garde of the Modern Movement, and this despite the use of various historical quotations. These quotations--Neo-Classical, Baroque, Corbusian, Constructivist or Loosian--have another important progrommatic value: they demonstrate how electicism can use recent traditions, and thus, how the Modern Movement can be included in the continuum of history.
Oriol Bohigas, "Turning Point" in The Architectural Review, no. 1054, December 1984 (London: The Architectural Press Ltd., 1984), p.36.




The cylinder at the heart of the Stuttgart design recalls old Stirling pin-ups such as gas-holders, pistons, Martello towers and Bentham's Panopticon. But these appear to have been elided with various antique fascinations like the circular Maritime Theatre at Hadrian's Villa or the marvellous spatial play with ramps in the lower terraces of the Villa Giulia. Presumably the manipulation of a sequence through a drum owes something to Le Corbusier's Maison de Refuge while the Parliament Building at Chandigarh must also be counted a relative. The analogical leap of thought between Cubist guitar shapes, the ambiguities of collage, the spatial acrobatics of Roman imperial planning and contextualism make the Staatsgalerie a far more forceful expression of Colin Rowe's ideas than anything that will ever be produced by his clones.
Collage seems to offer one of the central clues to the technique of the Staatsgalerie design. Throughout there are dramatic confrontations of images, forms, materials, themes. Figure meets labyrinth, grid meets room, High-Tech meets masonry, supermarket of culture bangs into decapitated Classical museum: modern machine à cultiver wrestles with masonry temple of art. We are treated to an exhibition of architecture, a display of Stirlingisms. Collage is a conceptual device, as well as a formal one, allowing ironical distance from the ethos behind past forms. It is therefore the ideal tool for a Mannerist.
William J. R. Curtis, "Virtuosity Around a Void" in The Architectural Review, no. 1054, December 1984 (London: The Architectural Press Ltd., 1984), p.42.

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