Bernard Tschumi has been an important voice in New York’s architecture scene since he first arrived here in 1976 from London. In his first ten years in America he produced a series of writings and architectural manifestos that had wide circulation in the culture of the day, including Advertisements for Architecture, Questions of Space, Sequences, Screenplays, Violence of Architecture, and, perhaps most famously, The Manhattan Transcripts produced from 1977–1978. His 1978 Artists Space exhibition Architectural Manifestos (possibly the first by an architect in a New York art gallery in many years) pointed a new way for young architects to enter into contemporary cultural debates. In 1988, Tschumi opened his New York office and was appointed Dean of Columbia’s architecture school where he remained until 2003. He is credited with transforming architectural education at Columbia—and throughout the U.S.—by importing the Architectural Association’s pedagogical model known as the “unit system.”
In 1982, Tschumi famously won the architecture competition for the design of a new Parisian park at La Villette. His red pavilions gridded across the old industrial site quickly became one of the defining architecture images of the era. Following on this international success, his office was commissioned to design a new student center on the Columbia campus, won a competition to create a new architecture school for Florida International University, and designed a striking bright blue residential buildings just off of Delancey Street on the lower east side. Tschumi currently is doing a bustling busniess designing buildings not in the United States but in Europe and specifically in France. These include his 2001 design for the new Acropolis Museum at the foot of that ancient hill in Athens, a difficult political and design challenge that he resolved with a series of three distinct tiers: a glass enclosure looking towards the Parthenon, a middle section containing the museum’s general collections, and a base volume that contains a gift shop, lobby, and service facilities. All of it sits atop a working excavation site.
In France, Tschumi, a French and Swiss native, has been having his most recent success, designing cultural and commercial projects that build on a career-long devotion to notions of envelope rather than facade and buildings reacting to site considerations of geography and history. In all of his projects for the past 30 plus years—buildings, exhibitions, and texts—he has been a unique voice at once critical of traditional design practice and able to create objects worthy of their time.
Independent Financial Centre of the Americas Master Plan
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
The first building in a proposed financial complex on 7,800 acres outside Santa Domingo, this business and information center contains multiple conference rooms and administrative areas. Both tower and base are sheeted in shaded glass and white plaster-like walls. A deep overhanging roof protects visitor from the sun and rain and the ground floor contains a large data center serving the project.
Carnal Dome, La Rosey International School
This flat, metal domed structure is situated just off the main campus of a historic Swiss educational institution and includes a series of programs for the school: concert hall, music conservatory, art studios, learning center, and a black box theater. Meant to infuse the site with a contemporary architectural image, the low lying dome fits into the site without overwhelming the campus or the surrounding landscape and is entered through an ancient allée of trees. Under the dome, two levels contain the building’s uses, which are sited around several open voids of public space. The area below the dome and these functioning spaces is, Tschumi claims, “a dynamic space of movement and fluent exchange.” The dome and its underlying building are constructed of steel, concrete, and wood with glass present only as a vertical separator between exterior and interior, or public and private.
The design for the Acropolis Museum is the result of the most complicated set of constraints of any recent competition and one fraught with potential stumbling blocks. Rather than seeing these as impediments to the project, Tschumi turned them into the organizing elements of the design. Situated at the edge of the Acropolis, it is surrounded by 19th century villas. Many Greeks thought the museum was too large and should resemble the Parthenon. Immediately underneath the building are archeological ruins from centuries of Athenian civilization, challenging Tschumi to relate the building to the ancient city below, the contemporary one around it, and the looming Parthenon high above the site. He developed a three part massing that, from top to bottom, offers views toward the Parthenon, contains general collections, and surmounts the excavations as part of the entry sequence.
This cylindrical structure, which recreates historic battlements and earthworks, sits near a historic French battlefield just outside the Roman town of Alesia. Meant to memorialize and interpret a famous battle between Julius Caesar and the Gauls that marks the founding of the French state, the timber-surfaced structure has trees on its roof to mute its presence on this sensitive site. Inside, a Guggenheim-like ramp contains interpretive material describing the famous confrontation and offers views out to the surrounding battlefield through openings that bring light inside the structure filtered through the interstices of the stone envelope. The top floor of the building houses a central auditorium and the roof garden and a viewing platform. A second museum structure was designed to sit on the hill overlooking the battlefield where the Gauls were entrenched in their fight against the Romans.