All I've seen on this "controversy" is a Feb. 3 article in The Pitch, K.C.'s alternative weekly paper. Written by somebody calling himself (herself?) The Strip, the piece actually praises the interior but takes exception with the exterior, eloquently saying, "it [looks] like ass." The Star points out that, "detractors have complained that what they see going up doesn't have the magic of the luminous initial design that was presented to the public."
Let's take a look:
Early model of the design.
Rendering of the design.
Photos of the construction site.
The area of contention is the vertical strips between pieces of glass (apparently Pilkington's channel glass). This detail is missing from the model, a conceptual image that eliminates any expression of construction in favor of expression of idea. If anything mislead people it was this model, as the rendering does show a vertical striping, though not as pronounced as the actual condition.
So basically critics are arguing that the public was cheated; that the initial design and the built work don't jibe. This is very common in architecture - with presentations expressing feeling over actual construction (usually not fully know at the time) - though photo-realistic renderings, made possible by computer model and rendering software, is becoming the norm. Could it be that the public expects the latter? Do all architectural renderings need to accurately display their built image or the public is lost?
Eliminating gestural, expressionistic sketches is unlikely, though taking exception with the differences between concept and execution points towards the necessity for "as-built" renderings in public building designs. This would be unfortunate, especially if architects were actually responsible for the narrowing the gap between the two, something the detractors of the Holl design seem to want.
But beyond this generalization regarding design and construction image, I think people are upset because the neo-classical Nelson-Atkins Museum has been a beloved part of Kansas City's built environment (having attended architecture school in Kansas, and made numerous trips to Kansas City, the Nelson-Atkins was always a popular place to visit.) Sitting opposite an expansive sculpture garden and straddled by Claus Oldenburg's witty Shuttlecocks, the public probably wanted a respectful design to the existing museum and its grounds. And they probably don't see it in Holl's "shipping container" architecture.
Ultimately, I think any judgment needs to wait until the building is actually done, preferably after it's had a chance to be used, both indoors and out. A lot of beloved buildings have started their existence with hatred, only to gain favor over time; why should this be any different?
Update 03.18: The Kansas City Star publishes a piece by James Hart on yesterday's "town hall" meeting. Transcript follows (thanks to Eric M. for the update).
The architect who designed a hotly debated addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art asked Kansas Citians for one thing Thursday night: patience.
The construction is not complete on the Bloch Building, and visitors need to tour the building's interior to really appreciate the space, Steven Holl told an audience Thursday night.
He predicted the addition would draw large crowds to see the museum's art collection.
“What's most important is the experience,” Holl said.
The construction has generated strong reactions, positive and negative. So the museum turned Holl's scheduled speech Thursday evening into a community forum. Unity Temple on the Plaza was close to full with people who came to listen — and speak.
Joe Williams, a museum volunteer, was the first audience member to go to the microphone. The new addition, he said, looks out of place against the original building. He wondered what, if anything, could be done at this point.
“I suspect this whole proceeding is an inquiry about spilled milk,” Williams said.
While many speakers questioned the project — several worried about the effect on neighbors — Holl also received applause when he promised the addition would draw more visitors to the museum and provide more space for its collection.
At times he poked fun at himself, noting that one critic had said the addition's layout looks like a “broken clarinet.”
“I like that,” Holl said. “Architecture and music.”
The Bloch Building is the major element of a $200 million expansion and overhaul of the museum. The limestone face of the original building has been cleaned and restored, and considerable changes to the interior are well under way.
“This will be a whole new museum,” museum director and chief executive Marc Wilson said recently.
The addition will nearly double the museum's square footage. Holl's design weaves the building in and out of the ground. The underground levels of the building extend more than 800 feet along the east side of the grounds.
Above ground will be five irregularly shaped glass-covered structures called lenses or pavilions. The smaller ones will serve something like skylights. The largest will contain offices, a library, meeting rooms and a soaring lobby area. Between the buildings will be sloping lawns and pieces from the Nelson's sculpture collection.
Grumbling about the Bloch building arose last summer as custom glass planks began defining the outer walls of the largest pavilion. Neighbors and passers-by expressed displeasure with the look of the building and its size.
Museum trustee Henry Bloch acknowledged recently that he had received an earful from the public. But he said he was confident and listening to the experts. He said they have reassured him that the building bearing his family's name would be beautiful and attract international attention.
Earlier this year, commentators and letter writers seemed to turn up the heat. The museum found itself on the defensive, so Holl's visit Thursday was turned into an opportunity to address the public.
Wilson and others have asked for patience as construction continues.
Holl predicted that by May, when glass installation on all five of the pavilions is closer to completion, the building will begin to make more sense.
“Art is about controversy,” Holl said earlier Thursday while walking through the construction site. “It's good to get people all agitated. Then when we let them in, they'll be overwhelmed.
“The thing with great architecture,” he said, “is people either are going to love it or they're going to hate it. That's because it's got something.”
On Thursday night he noted that his art museum in Helsinki, Finland, attracted lots of negative attention before it was finished. “But at the opening, everybody was there. And it was a great, great opening.”
The forum Thursday ended civilly.
“I wish we had this much discussion whenever we built a Wal-Mart,” landscape architect Matt Schoell-Schafer said.
Update 04.04: The Kansas City Star publishes a positive review of Holl's addition, with images.