Andy Warhol very likely attended art classes in the Hall of Architecture at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The Hall of Architecture is a star attraction at the Pittsburgh museum, a manifestation of Andrew Carnegie’s instruction to bring the world to the people of Pittsburgh. An eclectic troupe of fragments considered seminal for design practice in the early 20th century, the Hall of Architecture may well have seemed both glamorous and anachronistic to teenage Warhol: glamorous in its array of iconic monuments from Europe and the Middle East, anachronistic as the very concept of plaster casts was antithetical to High Modernist mores, to the cult of function and originality. In Plaster Monuments, Mari Lending takes her readers on a richly informative tour of this curious yet once vanguard world of architectural casts and their presentation in some of the world’s most prestigious museums. Pittsburgh has survived, perhaps as the Carnegie was not so infatuated with the diktats of Modernism. In London, the Cast Courts with their bifurcated cast of Trajan’s Column remain in situ at the heart of the Victoria and Albert Museum; and much of French architectural history is still present in Paris, in what is now the Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine, at the Trocadéro. Nevertheless, other collections, like those in Boston and Brussels, have long been abandoned or dispersed. “Only a decade,” Lending writes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “after ‘THE MOST IMPORTANT COLLECTION OF CASTS IN ANY PART OF THE WORLD’ was installed in New York City, taste—as well as fortunes—was changing, and in 1905 the position of curator of casts was abolished…The biggest collection of Parthenon casts in the world,” she notes wryly, “survived a 1937 referendum when the people of Basel suggested drowning it all in the Rhine.” Happily, Pittsburgh held out against these slings and arrows of architectural and museological fashion. Lending is Norwegian, a professor of history and theory at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design; she has also recently published a book with Peter Zumthor titled A Feeling of History. In her introduction, she posits Plaster Monuments “within the emerging scholarly field of architecture exhibitions.” For Lending, the past seems to shadow the present, toying with memory and assumptions of linear progress or of a fixed canon. She makes connections not only with the 19th-century museum and architectural theory but with such diverse contemporary technical and political phenomena as photography and colonialism. The book divides into five chapters—spanning, back and forth, across two centuries—plus a coda bringing Lending’s account into our era of digital reproduction. She starts with the Grand Tour and a watercolor, Student Surveying the Temple of Jupiter Stator at Rome, commissioned by John Soane and exhibited—along with twenty-one casts and many drawings, paintings, and engravings—in Soane’s own museum in London. Soon the French are leading the way, at the École des Beaux Art and the Trocadéro (originally the Musée de sculpture comparée). Lending describes the rivalry of Classicists and Romanticists, with the Trocadéro’s Viollet-le-Duc being assaulted at the École by eggs and apples and donkey brays. For the French, casts played a critical role not only for education but also the establishment of national identity. By the time the Met embarked on its collection, these Paris institutions possessed molds to produce multiple new casts. In addition, an entire profession of cast-makers—the formatori—existed to supply museums and private collectors. In Pittsburgh, Carnegie boldly envisaged architecture at the heart of his museum/library/music hall complex, in a roof-lit hall modeled on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Lending emphasizes the speed with which this was achieved, in part due to the frequent use of transatlantic cablegrams. The Carnegie determined its selection through correspondence with two dozen contemporary architects, many inspired by H.H. Richardson. Thus its signature cast of the Romanesque church of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, facilitated by a personal gift from Carnegie and transported from France in 95 crates. Lending’s final chapter sets up a duality at Yale: Josef Albers versus Paul Rudolph. She quotes Albers stating that “the French Beaux-Arts casts had no place in the methods of the German Bauhaus.” Only a few years after their banishment however, Rudolph incorporated many of these casts—outcasts?—into his Art and Architecture Building, itself a monumental cast of hand-hammered concrete. Whereas Charles Jencks once criticized the building as a “four million dollar architectural potpourri” with “tasteless exhibits”, Timothy Rohan recently suggested that Rudolph’s inclusion of the casts “may have been an instance of homosexual camp." Sounding positively Warholian, Landing writes in her coda to Beaux Arts cast culture that "copying was a serious matter." Can newer technologies now allow facsimiles to replace lost or destroyed works, as with the replica of the Palmyra arch erected in Trafalgar Square in 2016? Plaster Monuments sets the context for many such future discussions. Plaster Monuments Mari Lending Published by Princeton University Press, $39.99
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“When you look around the building, it’s more about what you don’t see than what you do,” Larry Scarpa, founding partner of Brooks + Scarpa, said of the Southern Utah Museum of Art (SUMA) in Cedar City, Utah. The museum has no back facade and as such, the traditional mechanical requirements were approached intentionally to create the appearance of a smooth, unbroken surface. Located within the facade are many seamless concealed doors, masking the mechanical requirements. One precast panel on the east facade, facing the sculpture garden, swings out to reveal the mechanical room behind it. All of the lights in the plaster soffit are trim-less and appear more as apertures than additive elements.
The nearby sandstone landscape inspired the architecture, where the primary gesture of the roof echoes the geometry of a slot canyon. Brooks + Scarpa used this natural formation to generate a form that sheds water in the same way a canyon would shed water. They worked through several iterations and combined a slope analysis alongside a structural analysis to arrive at a final form that had the proper slope drainage and was optimally constructed. Rainwater and snowmelt follow the roof slope toward one of two slots on the east and west faces of the building. At the culmination of these two channels, where the channel meets the exterior walls, is a custom-fabricated precast concrete scupper that directs the water into a below-grade retention basin. The entire perimeter of the building is clad in five-eighths-inch thick precast concrete panels by Taktl in an open-jointed system. Everything behind the concrete is waterproofed and the rail mounting system is open to the air. The concrete panels hang with a consistent gap-joint to allow for movement and expansion. Additionally there is a subtle curvature to the east and west facades that is not noticeable but, was detailed as a faceted curve to maximize the amount of flat, standardized panels. There were a few moments that called for a custom fabricated panel, namely one corner which has a filleted corner at the transition between two facades. The soffit of the building is constructed out of an acoustical plaster and fabricated in the field. The complex curvature of the soffit required intricate detailing of the x,y, and z coordinates to be constructed accurately. Following the lead of the exterior facade, the plaster expansion joints continue the lines between each panel. Initially, Brooks + Scarpa wanted to achieve a seamless transition between wall and roof. However, when they discovered this wasn’t possible they were forced to consider different options. Their solution was a quarter-inch flat aluminum channel that runs over both the TAKTL panels and the precast scupper to create a consistent cap where the wall meets the roof. There is a one-inch gap between the aluminum and the panels, however, the aluminum runs flat over the concrete scuppers. Conversely, where the concrete meets the plaster soffit, the plaster is held back the same one-inch dimension of the panels in a reveal. At the base of the facade, the concrete panels and acoustic plaster are held off from the ground in a similar dimension.
The veil functions both as the primary facade and the daylighting system, providing a sense of connection between the gallery spaces and the city.The Broad Museum will open its doors to the public on Sunday, 5 years after after Diller Scofidio + Renfro won a small invite-only design competition to design a space for Eli Broad’s immense contemporary art collection. All of the public spaces in the museum are created between the building's two enclosure systems, coined the “vault and veil” by DS+R. The veil, a daylight-absorbing concrete exoskeleton balances performance with fashion, while an interior vault protects a nearly 2,000 piece art collection. Visitors move over, under and through the vault, which consumes almost half of the 120,000 sq. ft., 3-story building. The exterior facade assembly consists of a steel frame clad with 2,500 glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) panels which were precast on custom CNC formed molds. Evidence of the GFRC's digital fabrication process can be prominently seen on the main elevation where a large dimple provides a smooth undulation in the facade. Kevin Rice, Project Director for DS+R, explains this formal move was a deliberate reaction against the repetitiveness of the elevation: “We were studying the capabilities of digital fabrication and wanted to move the design of concrete facades beyond the brutalist facades of the 60s and 70s.” To construct the interior portion of the facade panels, seen below, the project team worked with Kreysler & Associates to develop a lightweight alternative to the exterior cladding. Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) panels were fabricated with a finish to match the adjacent GFRC panels. Galleries on the third floor sit under 328 skylights supported from a 200’ long span structure composed of 6’ deep plate girders. The skylight monitors are designed to encapsulate the structure of the roof, the lighting system (a combination of daylight and LED), the waterproofing and drainage system, and the fire & life safety systems. All of these functions have been coordinated by DS+R to fit seamlessly within the language of the vault. Rice speaks of the benefits to this rigorously designed roof system: “The skylights are designed to maximize the reflected light from the north sky while eliminating all direct sunlight from entering the space. This allows for the tight conservation controls for the art while eliminating the need for electric light for much of the day.” The building’s siting across the street from Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall notably had an influence on the aesthetics of the facade. Elizabeth Diller said she wanted the building to be strikingly different from Gehry's building: "We realized it was just useless to try to compete – there is no comparison to that building," Diller said. "We just had to do something that is mindful and that knows where it is […] Compared to Disney Hall's smooth and shiny exterior, which reflects light, The Broad is porous and absorptive, channeling light into the public spaces and galleries." What results is a wall system which functions both as the primary facade and the daylighting system, providing a sense of connection between the gallery spaces and the city.
Curbed Detroit drew our attention to that city’s Fist National Building and its year-long renovation. The Albert Kahn-designed building opened in 1930. Its interiors have fallen into disrepair, including the original plaster ceiling. In preparation for Papa Joe’s Gourmet Kitchen, which will occupy 15,000 square feet of the building’s Cadillac Square frontage, the building’s ground floor underwent a massive renovation. The work uncovered the old plasterwork, raising the ceiling height in the process. A flowing white element was added to accent the historic ceiling. Photos courtesy Chris and Michelle Gerard.