Stirling's Muses Part II

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From: Stirling's Inheritance To: Stirling's Legacy Re: Stirling's Muses


significant plateau in Stirling's architectural evolution

After 1945, almost nothing remained of the great historic cities of Germany, a tragedy compounded by postwar traffic engineering and weak attempts at "historical reconstruction" so that by the 1970s, the only thing left was regret for what had been lost. For Stirling, with his convictions about modernist urban design, and his awareness of history, the situation was ideal. His connoisseurship (modernist collector of historical allusions) became enhanced in response to the new milieu and his interest in the past, his enthusiasm for the museum as a type and its heroic origins in neoclassicism (particularly in Germany) combined with the need to make modern cities as beautiful as the old, led his architecture into transformations he himself could hardly have anticipated.

Thomas Muirhead, "Modernism and the Urban tradition: Stirling's mature architectural method in four museum projects of the 1970s" in James Stirling, Michael Wilford and Associates - Buildings and Projects 1975-1992 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994), p. 13.

Stirling lives in the present, moves modestly, and advances reverently. Of course, none of this means that he avoids novelty; and he knows full well that newness is nothing more than the end product of long development from the distant past.

Only this complex attitude gives form and substance to Stirling's motifs, for in his mature period now, Stirling is at last free to undertake revolutionary experiments. In this situation such an attitude becomes the key guaranteeing the continuity of his work. We can clarify this by tracing the transitions in Stirling's ideas for art gallery architecture embodied in his designs since 1975. The design drawings submitted in the competition for a new section of the Düsseldorf Museum of North Rhine Westphalia are a good place to start. Indeed, all we have to go on here are the drawings, since the proposal was not accepted.

Among Stirling's work of recent years this is one of the most important, and best, of his transitional works. Many of his favorite structural features, decisive and even distinctive in the other works, are all adopted and used widely in this project, and the traditional typology of the art gallery undergoes qualitative transformation by the adoption of the magical metaphor of the city. In the project for the Düsseldorf gallery, while the design plan was novel and in many ways represented a totality intended to surprise users on several levels, its rare insight and brilliant flashes of creative imagination ground it firmly in the confusing context of the city.

Francesco Dal Co, "Development of Stirling's Style" in Recent Work of James Stirling, Michael Wilford and Associates (A+U Extra Edition, May, 1990), p. 19.



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