1997.04.22

Stuttgart Promenade

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Geoffrey Baker, "Stuttgart Promenade" in The Architectural Review, 1992, Dec., pp. 76-78.

'This is not easy architecture. And it is not innocent architecture. It is knowledgeable, worldly, elitist and difficult architecture. The emphasis is on myth and monumentality rather than on the old partnership of form and function. But it is in essential spatial and structural skills, in the total integration of image and purpose, that Stirling and Le Corbusier share common ground. No symbolism or metaphor can substitute for that. Call the new architecture revivalism, revisionism or revolution, the fact remains that you've got to be as good as Stirling to pull it off.'
Ada Louis Huxtable (writing about the Fogg Museum).


The conceptual origin of the Staatsgalerie seems to derive from two programmatic requirements: first, to establish a route across the site, and second, to assemble the diverse cultural fragments comprising such a complex into a unified whole with a clear identity. The nature of the cultural fragments (music school, galleries, library, theatre, auditorium, cafe and so on) suggests a city in microcosm, and Stirling and Wilford adopt this analogy, with all the symbolic connotations that this implies.


5. Christian Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci, Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture, New York, 1980, p. 10.

Christian Norberg-Schulz has identified the basic property of man-made places as being 'concentration and enclosure'. He continues: 'Buildings are furthermore related to their environment by resting on the ground and rising towards the sky. Finally the man-made environments comprise artefacts or "things" which may serve as internal foci, and emphasise the gathering function of the settlement."5 Stirling and Wilford extend these fundamental properties to include such key constituents of the city as centre, path and domain, creating a complex spatial structure that combines the grid and the labyrinth, and in which boundaries are clearly defined.


In the design strategy of the Staatsgalerie the two key themes of Stirling's oeuvre are present: economic compaction and the idea of interlock. Stirling locks the building into its context by repeating the enclosing massing of the existing gallery, extending this theme to accommodate the slope. To resist any sliding tendency the slope is stratified into layers, penetrated by a cylindrical drum that ensures anchorage to the hillside.

At the upper level, a temenos zone is created onto which the galleries are placed. They are arranged to enclose both the space and the rotunda, which is locked into them centrally. The implied frontality of this concept is furthered by setting the upper level back so that a lower zone may be enclosed by the existing gallery and by the Kammertheater. Finally, the lowest zone at street level ties old and new together with a through route that acknowledges the linearity of the Konrad-Adenauer Strasse, this zone becoming a boulevard, with a bank of trees that protect the complex from the chasm in front of the site.

The diagonal route
The promenade architecturale surges across the complex in a magical mystery tour that resonates with memories of city structuring. In this scenario associations are transformed and decoded so that, for example, the traditional rotunda acts not as a point of culmination (as in the Pantheon or in Schinkel's Altes Museum) but as a dynamic participant in an elaborate dialogue between inside and outside and between an ideal and reality.

The diagonal route across the site (a programmatic requirement) is enshrined in Stirling's conceptual sketch. The route is vigorously inscribed, transforming a static ensemble into vibrant activity, and in the process encouraging several dual readings. By having contact with, but no access to, the central court, the route increases both the readings of finality and transience and the tension between immutable permanence and rotation. These oppositions extend to the enclosing museum blocks, fractured into two separate pieces externally, though linked internally as the route punches between them.

The route also makes explicit the two complementary but distinct worlds in the complex, one internal and concealed, the other external and exposed. The external promenade proclaims the connection between the earth and the sky, its stratified acropolis receiving the elements, and of necessity locking with the hillside and the city to which it belongs. The interior by contrast is a protected labyrinth that brings us close to the earth, again with dual readings; the massing is that of a fortress with a strong sense of the wall--there are no facades - yet the coloured stone cladding signifies a striped jewel box, locked, but with a key.

The mixed readings continue. Rising through the layers, the rotunda, screwed into the ground, becomes the eternal heart of the city of memories whose role is defined by the routes that traverse it. Its circularity is reinforced by the ramp that ascends around one side. The route enters the drum at its midpoint, piercing its volume like a knitting needle through a ball of wool, the straight/curve/straight path decisively accentuating the axis. Before entering the rotunda, this processional route is compressed and at each end turns twice at right angles, breaking into the drum at either side. Despite rising (falling) around the drum, this is a mainly horizontal promenade, part of a gradual ascent/descent begun (or concluded) with the oblique ramp from (or to) the lower terrace.


The longitudinal route
By contrast, this meander is countered within the drum by a route that penetrates, affirms the longitudinal axis, and punctures each floor plane as stairs descend (ascend) through the floors of the drum and upper terrace. At the level of the floor of the drum, entry to the underworld is through a classical gateway, depressed so that it and the stair appears to be sinking. It is an operatic gesture through which a heroine or an entire chorus could disappear forever as the orchestra beats out its final tragic chords. Conversely the steep 'Mayan' stairs opposite are an ascent to paradise--a stairway to the stars that moves towards the higher plane of artistic treasures.

That all this takes place within an creeper clad ruin only heightens the allegory. It is meaning piled upon meaning, drama upon drama, enclosed, intimate, grand, an unusually complex receptacle for myth and nostalgia that is at the same time figuratively very precise. It is a cylindrical focus where the two main axes of the configuration meet. In this sense it is a Pantheon, an idyllic centre of cosmic harmony.

Entrance
Access to the museum occurs on the lower terrace where the entry pavilion is given a clear identity by its contrasting shape, membrane and colour. The twisting wall of glass (a transformation of Corbu's sanctuary at La Tourette) acts as a scoop or net to trawl the visitor, its glass wall offering glimpses of the promised land; while resting on the lower terrace it is locked into and participates in the upper level, its outer wave deferring (as does the ramp opposite) to the lateral axis so delicately marked by the scaffolding of the propylaeum at street level. Like the entry to the Cambridge History Faculty building the entrance is carefully signalled as being a horizontal event that nevertheless belongs to neighbouring vertical planes, in this case with an expanding oblique echelon of glazed canopies that define the entry zone. These canopies ironically reverse the traditional masonry entrance, repeating the elegant open transparency of the propylaeum.

Having already encountered the cylindrical 'neon handrails' that define boundary edges to ramps and terraces, we enter through bright red cylindrical pillar boxes in an initial revolve that preludes a larger rotation beyond. The foyer is paved with that exaggerated green recognisable as the verdant carpet of the Elysian Fields or Oz, dependent on one's age or mood. Outside, the swirl is reinforced by a sandstone seat, from which to contemplate the terrace in wind and sunshine. On the inside this becomes a polished wooden seat, welcoming, sumptuous and sensuous as it also intensifies the swirl, now directional, towards the darker space beyond.

On entering, a series of incidents beckon, and we are drawn towards light filtering in through the curve of the drum, and more assertively, by a flood of light falling on the lift at the far end of the foyer. The route meanders--city fashion--past another cylinder, a cultural take-away in the form of a circular 'temple' (the information kiosk) that radiates its presence with a halo of light tubes. The twist of the entry pavilion directs us under a bridge formed by the route above towards a darker zone, part-lit by the arched windows around the drum. The depth of the wall and graceful rhythm of these windows, send messages that allude to a classical past. The foyer floor, being below these windows, gives a view into the rotunda that is aquarium-like and we can view the privileged--now properly initiated having already made contact with the treasures.

But we are not intended to linger here,for long; the space is fluid and directional, designed for movement, this being confirmed by the cloaks counter that eases us from the entry pavilion towards elevator or auditorium. This counter continues the entry swirl with its own twist (a parody of Corbu's counter that takes us through the entry sequence in the Cité de Refuge) its shiny surface repeating that of its neighbouring seat in the entry pavilion. Each of these is carefully sculpted, celebrating human contact in a manner that is reminiscent of Aalto's benches in the council chamber at Saynatsaalo, or Corbu's metal altar rail at Ronchamp.


The route to the galleries
Behind the counter the cloaks space is defined by the underside of the external ramp, and the centre of the space is punctuated by a concrete column whose squatness is the quintessence of loadbearing. This column supports the internal ramp up to the galleries and separates movement towards either the auditoiiumor the galleries. The ascending ramps are attached to a central vertical plane, part of which is removed so that it both divides and links the foyer and the auditorium.

Priority is given to the route towards the galleries by the flood of light that descends on the lift and its enclosing gantry frame, an exhibit in its own right. This transformation of a collier-y structure evokes memories of the industrial landscape of England, draws on its origins.in the Olivetti project of 1971 and alludes to High-Tech (even if its colouring is decidedly Stirling). The oblique arms supporting the lift enframe an entrance to the restaurant.

The gantry is enclosed by a triumphant swirling glazed membrane that celebrates ascent and concludes the ascent. From this echo of the entry pavilion the galleries begin, intimately related to the upper terrace. If the lower terrace is informal and very much a through route, the upper terrace is the opposite, a contained formal space defined by the classical format of its enclosing palazzo. The Egyptian cornice makes the point, acting as a flat plane where it faces the lower terrace, but inflecting inwards and thereby furthering the enclosing role of the palazzo at the upper level.

This enclosure is pierced by the rotunda, setting up a dramatic confrontation between the orthogonal format and its central cylinder. The massive curved wall directs movement around it but is pierced at several points to reveal that it is a void, into which the floor plane of the upper terrace has fallen. Access to the upper terrace from the galleries is through tall French doors with the kind of aristocratic overtones that suggest they should be opened and closed by bewigged uniformed footmen. These doors, symmetrically disposed in creeper covered walls, lead correctly to a procession of cellular gallery rooms also symmetrically disposed with an enfilade of openings down the centre.

An alternative route
An alternative route sets up an opposite scenario from the ascent through the foyer. This descent leads left 'from the entry pavilion down a ramp that is an internalised reversal of the oblique external ramp. Movement down this internal ramp is heralded by a procession of four large display containers, majestically enframed and with a depth into the wall that enhances their physical presence. At the end of the ramp, a U-turn gives access to the hypostyle hall temporary exhibition gallery, centrally placed on the longitudinal axis. Johnson Wax mushroom columns become half cylinders that disappear into the ceiling. Ventilation ducts charge across the space like stiff grey snakes, affirming the directionality of the longitudinal axis.

On axis, the route continues either into the drum or to the left in a ramped ascent to the galleries illuminated by a Palladian rhythm of arched windows. As throughout Stirling's oeuvre, and in this building particularly, these windows are carefully locked into adjacent events, their presence behind the classical statuary a triumphant acclamation of the Western Tradition. Statues and windows, (such as the entrance canopy, the squat column in the foyer or the seat in the entrance pavilion) form part of a composite ensemble, their specific functional and symbolic roles extending to become part of a larger format.

One can readily imagine Le Corbusier applauding this virtuoso rendering of his celebrated promenade architecturale. And in so doing he would recognise the difference between the Mediterranean origins of his own philosophy and those northern European sensibilities of his disciple. Anct times have changed. When he began La Construction des Villes in 1910, Le Corbusier envisaged cities that were picturesque, full of surprises and with the reassuring identity provided by familiar motifs. His own cities were not to be like that, and the architectural revolution of the late twentieth century was to be quite different to the one he had envisaged as a young man. But in Stirling's city of delights, he would recognise the iigour that generated his own promenades and a similar complex and subtle deployment of volumes and spaces to that which conveyed his own symbolic messages.

But most of all, he would enjoy Stirling's capacity to control the architectural experience so that the route becomes an artistic evocation of the journey through life, in the process uncovering meanings that are central to existence.

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