Superlatives swirled in every account of the 2006 opening of the expansion of the Morgan Library and Museum, designed by Renzo Piano with Beyer Blinder Belle. Nicolai Ouroussoff teed up: “dazzling,” “sublime,” “triumph,” and “mesmerizing” (New York Times, April 10, 2006). The AIANY jury feted it with its Architecture Honor Award in 2006, calling it “a masterpiece” (Oculus, Fall 2006).The critics adopted Piano’s romantic metaphor “piazza” to describe the new atrium space. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I think that buildings face onto piazzas, showing their fronts—not their back-sides. Don’t get me wrong—the McKim library has a very pleasant blank Tennessee marble back side, and you can barely see the hind quarters of the Annex building for all the overhead extravaganzas of shading grids, light fixtures, and flying elevator platforms. The brownstone of the former residence is also obscured behind the deep cherry paneling and new pavilion that houses offices and the loading dock on the 37th Street side. When I think piazza, I think figural space—space that has defined shape and volume. The Gilbert Court space, as it is named, is vaporous and soft—it flows between the masses of the three buildings that pin its corners. It is an indeterminate medium into which the other buildings have been embedded, incidentally, not creating its own new separate order, but rather seeping in and around tiny points of entry on the behinds of the cardinal structures.
-Cynthia Kracauer/Center for Architecture