Walker Expansion

Sunday sees the opening of the new and improved Walker Art Center with its Herzog and De Meuron-designed expansion to its existing facilities by Edward Larrabee Barnes. The Swiss duo - known for their simple, yet graphically and texturally rich exteriors - will also see its design for San Francisco's de Young Museum open later this year. They - along with Renzo Piano - seem poised to take over the U.S. market on cultural facilities, specifically art museums. While a building by H&DM would probably not be confused with one by Piano (and vice-versa), what they have in common is a respectful approach to designing spaces for art, a trend in architecture that goes against buildings and spaces that tend to compete or upstage the art within, as in Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao.

Missing image - walker1.jpg
Image from The New York Times

Tyler Green's review of the expansion states that "While the [Milwaukee Art Museum by Santiago Calatrava] relied on its building to attract an audience, the new Walker plays it safe and relies upon its collection," referring to the debt incurred by MAM in the wake of its signature building, a bird in flight on Lake Michigan's shore. Is this experience, as well as the closing of Steven Holl's Bellevue Art Museum shortly after its unveiling (it's set to reopen this year...but for how long?), telling museum director's that the "Bilbao effect" has run its course?

Missing image - walker2.jpg
Image from The New York Times

While Nicolai Ourousoff thinks the Walker Art Center's expansion could be more striking and sophisticated, his review is positive, stating "Instead of a monumental object, the architects have fashioned a building that hovers at the intersection of urban and suburban cultures - no small feat in a country that seems to be dividing more and more along those lines."

Christopher Hawthorne's take is more about decoration than the museum's fit into the American context (via): "It will be fascinating to judge the results...when a prominent architect grows bold enough to put ornament back on a facade, where it is still pretty much taboo. For all their architectural daring, Herzog and De Meuron still weren't willing to go that far in Minneapolis."

But it seems like the lack of ornament on the exterior isn't the architects choice so much as a necessity given the budget and its inherent focus on the art over the architecture. Herzog and De Meuron are probably the most overtly ornamental architects in contemporary practice, embedding images in concrete and glass, elevating gabions to the status of architecture (and maybe even art), and generally pushing materials and technology to find new avenues of expression for architecture. Their aluminum-clad tower and simple interiors in Minneapolis sounds like a compromise, but definitely not a bad one.


  1. not the best from h + DeM though. The interior is rather nice, however is not representative of the whole. In fact the form looks a bit like they were too busy to pay attention to the job, which is a pity. After seeing the Prada building this one comes off quite underwhelming. Not that they need to be sensational all of the time, but in this case the cantilevered form seems like it should be a strong statement but all we get is a tired looking object. It would have been better if they had left it more like the Laban Centre, simple but strong.

  2. Ouroussoff suggests that aluminum was chosen for the skin by cost-costing Walker officials. Not quite.
    H + dM proposed, as Ouroussoff writes, "to wrap it in a luminous Teflon fabric like an enormous paper lantern" and the Walker was very excited by the idea. Over a year into the construction process, H + dM finally built a mock-up of the Teflon concept and found it ugly as did Walker officials. (Remember: Minneapolis already has experience with the Teflon-covered Metrodome which is not only ugly but difficult to keep clean in Minnesota's harsh winters. Why no one at the firm or the museum thought of this before is beyond me.) The aluminum skin was chosen as a last-minute and ultimately more expensive stand-in for the Teflon. It would have been beautiful in (the De Young museum's) copper, particularly as a counterpoint to the three massive churches across the street, but that wasn't to be.
    I don't know what Ouroussoff means by "sophistication" but I would think that the best metric for that would be in what energy and possibilities the building brings to the center's mission: the arts. On that count, the building seems to be a home-run. See Holland Cotter's art review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/15/arts/design/15cott.html
    See also a great slideshow of the facility from the StarTribune:


Post a Comment

Comments are moderated for spam.