Archive for the ‘ICA’ Category

The Icy ICA — A view of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston

02/16/2008


Below is my view of Diller, Scofidio + Renfro’s Institute of Contemporary Art-Boston, as it appeared in the 2007 year-in-review issue of “ab” (Architecture Boston.) The building just turned one year old, and so the national award-winning magazine of the Boston Society of Architects (the largest branch of the American Institute of Architects,) asked me and three others what we think of the ICA. The feature is called,

Been There.

Yes, I’ve been there. But only twice. Once last winter as a tourist,and once now that I’ve moved to Boston. Since I didn’t live here when it opened, I missed most of the brouhaha. Perhaps I come to it with less baggage.

The first time I visited, I put less pressure on the building. I probably thought a little less about how it might function as a museum that I would visit regularly. I wanted an exciting architectural experience — a tourist’s entertainment — something that would communicate to me in broad strokes about museums and cities and art.

That first time, I was somewhat disappointed. Anybody who works at a museum knows it’s hard to get people in; the building can help seduce them.

But as you approach the ICA through the parking lots — at least until the neighborhood is developed — you’re met with a façade that belongs on an alley.

The large glass elevator, which could be a signature for the place, is hard to find and presents little drama. The “mediatheque” is a room of quiet contemplation, a sort of seaman’s chapel. But its view down to the water — no earth or sky, no beginning or end, just “nothingness” — is so forced it makes you miss your freedom to explore. The concept is better than the experience. It’s a straitjacket of a room.

I barely remember the galleries from that first visit. They are plain, serviceable enough, but the spaces seem small, particularly for viewing contemporary art.

I was gratified that the gift shop seemed almost hidden and that the café was not overdone. I loved the theater, with two glass walls featuring views of the sea and sky that connect performances to the life of the city. And I loved the outside seating, under the cantilever, making nature and Boston the spectacle, open around the clock.

So now I am living here. I intend to visit the ICA often. I now need this same building to do more work for me — to work well as a museum. On my first visit as a resident, I was at once more pleased, and more disappointed.

Even with its curving contemporary form, the building still feels subdued. The wood that wraps around the building is purposely faded, like pre-washed denim. Nearly all surfaces are muted. Little inside the building sharpens my vision or my senses. Bland artificial light is cast too evenly in the galleries.

Outside, the milky glass around the gallery level looks more like Target than like Cartier.

But I like the solidity of the place and its lack of arrogant geometries; the calmness of its few materials is handled well. This allows you to see art in a peaceful setting, even if it’s not an exhilarating one. You can visit often and enjoy the ICA without being irritated. It offers polite views of an already polite city.

And maybe that’s what makes it a Boston building.

A former NPR correspondent and host of a Chicago Public Radio program on architecture and design, Edward Lifson is a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He blogs on architecture at www.edwardlifson.com. ###

To read the views of artist Ross Miller, writer Deborah Wiesgall and architect Gretchen Schneider, click here. Then tell us with whom you agree!

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Mies in Mannheim

11/19/2007

As close as you’re ever going to get to this unbuilt building.

Nice sound in this video too. Nice to “walk through” this.

The openness of it and the use of glass make me think of the auditorium at Boston’s (one year old) Institute of Contemporary Art, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. In that project, fifty years after Mies, the auditorium is also open to the outside via floor-to-ceiling glass.

-Edward