A lecture by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien last night at the Center for Architecture was not only inspiring, it was enlightening, as they presented a bunch of projects I wasn't familiar with, and I thought I knew pretty much all of them. One of the projects I am familiar with is the American Folk Art Museum in Midtown. The architects spoke briefly about its narrow stair, one of three ornamental (non-fire) stairs in the building. Not really thinking about that stair since I walked it in 2001, I was struck by its similarity to the New Museum's narrow stair when an image of it flashed on the wall (not the image below, the only one I could find on the web).
[L: New Museum (image source), R: American Folk Art Museum (image source)]
Each is obviously quite narrow, each is tucked to one side of the building, and each provides a distant vista of the floor from which one is descending. While SANAA's "unformed" and Tod & Billie's "formed" designs (more on this distinction in a later musing on the lecture) couldn't be more diverse, both offices acknowledge the appeal of each stair's secrecy, the fact one either comes upon it by surprise or by exploring and searching out the various spaces of the respective museum. So even though the white boxes of the New Museum are the polar opposite of the Folk Art Museum's "idiosyncratic and personal" galleries, they apparently do have something in common. It's hard to say if SANAA was influenced by the earlier work, or if -- more likely -- a combination of site restrictions, function, and other factors pointed to the design decision in each case. Both stairs (and museums) are worth searching out.
[This is the first of a series of posts about, and inspired by, the aforementioned lecture by Tod & Billie.]