Vision Work/해외 프로젝트

niceguy 2006. 1. 7. 14:25

Eyebeam's quest to house its new-media museum reveals that design competitions--for all their pros and cons--can be good for architecture.




Diller + Scofidio's winning proposal for Eyebeam's Museum of Art and Technology is a two-ply ribbon (above) that interweaves spaces for production and presentation, so that each group of users can see through the other's space while navigating the building (below).
Courtesy Eyebeam
It was May 2001, and Hani Rashid, a principal at cutting-edge architecture firm Asymptote, was reflecting on the competition to design nonprofit new-media foundation Eyebeam's Museum of Art and Technology. "It's very close, for our generation, to what the Chicago Tribune competition [in 1922] was for the Modernists," he said, the excitement palpable in his voice. "That brought together some of the most interesting architects from around the world [among them Adolf Loos, Eliel Saarinen, and Walter Gropius] and captured the imagination, and the story, of a time. I think, for many of us, this has that potential."

Rashid's optimism was contagious. And yet--given the pathetic history of architectural competitions in America--it played like an attack of the Pollyannas. Whereas in Europe a tradition of competitions, often state-sponsored and legally mandated, has nurtured pathbreaking architecture and innumerable distinguished careers, the United States has never had a comparable culture--for good reason, many believe. Competitions, their critics say, waste the resources of the participants, traduce the architect-client relationship, and result in design by committee, dysfunctional pseudosculpture, or frequently nothing at all.

Yet when thoughtfully undertaken and executed, they can produce, as Rashid suggested, epoch-making ideas, buildings, and careers. The Eyebeam competition to design one of the first institutions devoted to new media represented just such an opportunity. And as it played out over 19 months to reach its surprising conclusion, Eyebeam's endeavor became a kind of X ray of the competition process: it revealed many benefits, not a few pitfalls, and much of what it takes to succeed.

The first requirement, without question, is a good client--one with an understanding of a project's challenges and a willingness to take risks. Enter John S. Johnson, Eyebeam's executive director. A 36-year-old film director, Johnson conceived of Eyebeam after founding the Filmmakers Collaborative, a New York facility that provides low-budget filmmakers with affordable office and editing space. Growing disillusioned with independent cinema, Johnson cultivated an interest in video art and, by extension, new media. "I'd always liked electronic artists' work," he explained when we met last year, "and I began to see that the problem was the same for them as for filmmakers, in that resources were relatively inaccessible." In 1996, with a grant from his family's Atlantic Foundation (theirs is the fortune Band-Aids built), Johnson launched Eyebeam to support the creation of digital artwork, encourage research, and expand awareness of new media.

This illustration (above right) shows the public spaces a museum visitor would see. Someone working in the building (above left) would use different spaces.
Between the structural "ribbons" is mechanical space (above) for support systems.
The library (above), will allow visitors to access a digital archive. Diller + Scofidio's proposal also includes a programmable fiber-optic floor (below) at the entrance.
Courtesy Eyebeam
To contain this agenda Eyebeam purchased a garage building in Chelsea--the heart of the Manhattan art establishment--that Johnson renovated for immediate use. Later he acquired an adjacent lot for more land on which to construct a new building. But the more he attacked the task, the more it revealed its complexity. First of all, the new-media museum was a nearly unprecedented type of building--nobody knew quite what went into it. The institution's three core programs--education, art production, and presentation--would have to work both separately and in combination. Trickiest was the problem of transformation, since as much as two-thirds of the 89,000-square-foot museum would begin as rental space, to be phased out as Eyebeam developed. After working with a team of architects for more than a year, Johnson realized he'd be best served by a competition. "I needed to see more than one thorough investigation of a really tangled problem," he explains.

Johnson's instinct points to one of a competition's chief benefits. "The more complex the problem, the less likely it is that the framers have even considered the ten best solutions," says Terence Riley, who as chief architecture and design curator at the Museum of Modern Art oversaw the competition to redesign MoMA. "A competition," Riley believes, "is an extremely important stimulator of serious thinking and brings out the best ideas." The reason is simple. "Competitions allow you to take problems of architecture and explore them more freely than with commissions," explains Preston Scott Cohen, an Eyebeam competitor. "The sponsor is looking for vision, ideas--you can be more creative."

Consulting architects David Hotson and Craig Newick, together with Eyebeam's special projects director Angela Molenaar, helped Johnson design a three-stage invited competition: proposals would be requested from roughly 30 firms; a shortlist of fifteen would then be asked to submit conceptual designs, and three of these would be chosen to develop their entries more completely.

Johnson next faced the question of whom to invite, a make-or-break moment that's often mishandled. Typically the board of an institution, faced with fund-raising and dreading controversy, selects a handful of brand-name competitors and then chooses either the most conventional scheme or the one that approximates the Bilbao du jour--which means effectively that the game is rigged. It's a mentality that works as much against clients as architects. "Piano, Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron--it's the same group that's doing a hundred projects right now," participant Elizabeth Diller says. "Wouldn't it be better to get someone who hadn't done it before?"

Offsite:
Eyebeam competition, www.eyebeam.org/museum/arch.html.
In fact, Eyebeam did just that. The invitations that went out in September 2000 included marquee names such as Koolhaas and Ito (neither of whom submitted a proposal). But Eyebeam also approached a number of Young Turks--first-generation products of design's computer age--and advanced many to the semifinals. Thus Johnson got precisely what a successful competition needs: architects equipped to solve a problem and inspired to excellence by the opportunity. "It couldn't be a more perfect set of issues for us to wrap our heads around," Diller says of herself and partner Ricardo Scofidio, in a typical reaction. "We've been working in new media for a while, and we would have been heartbroken if we hadn't been selected for the second phase."

Eyebeam's strategy also raised the stakes, just as Rashid's evocation of the Tribune competition suggests. The two shared key similarities. In 1922 the skyscraper--like the new-media museum today--was a new building type. The Tribune tower offered a defining opportunity: to create an architectural form that--again, like the new-media museum--owed its life to a world-altering leap in technology (the high-rise elevator) and demanded an equally vaulting response. Some of architecture's most forward-thinking minds accepted the challenge. The results--as the Tribune predicted--made history.

The younger practitioners that competed for the Eyebeam project (including Architecture Research Office, Neil Denari, Foreign Office Architects, Thomas Leeser, Greg Lynn, MVRDV, Reiser + Umemoto, and Rogers Marvel) are some of the brightest of the digital generation. Each firm resolves the tension between the material and digital somewhat differently. "It's interesting," Jesse Reiser says, "that these firms come together in a project like this, where you have virtual spaces, and [the problem of] how you would deal with the material aspect of architecture relative to that immaterial condition." This rare confluence of theme, project, participants, and moment added up to a signal architectural event. "Eyebeam really put one out there for us," Denari says.

In MVRDV's design, the building consists of a single large open exhibition space (below) punctuated by beams that house production and other internal activities.
Courtesy Eyebeam
Johnson's gamble paid off immediately: by harvesting a crop of ideas from the initial proposals, he and his team were able to use the firms' new-media expertise to improve their program. The shortlist was announced in November 2000, and Eyebeam distributed the program brief to 13 firms in January. (Steven Holl and UN Studio dropped out, citing overburdened schedules.)

The program--the architects' marching orders--is arguably a competition's most significant element. A good one must be thorough enough to convey a structure's particulars, yet sufficiently fluid conceptually to spark the competitors' imaginations. It's a hard balance to nail, and Eyebeam's got mixed reviews. Almost everyone responded to the concept's four themes: Adaptation (to technical change), Transformation (from mixed-use to institutional), Interrelation (between programs and functions), and Intersection (of public and museum space). But the architects also found the brief too specific. "The demands went down to the tiny detail of every office," Cohen says. "It really wasn't necessary at this stage." This overemphasis on details would prove less relevant than anyone imagined.

On June 13 last year, however, when the semifinalists' designs debuted in Eyebeam's temporary space, the outcome was overwhelmingly positive. Though a sameness pervaded certain schemes--perhaps because of the brief's specificity--the architects had attacked Johnson's "tangled problem" with energy and imagination. Many treated the building's skin as an active technological representation--notably Greg Lynn, who created goiterlike extrusions and intrusions in the building's skin, which was itself a screen for displaying media projections. The problem of overcommitting to an evolving medium produced solutions ranging from FOA and Chipperfield's blank slates to Asymptote's renamed Flux Museum, a curvilinear form composed of fluid, flexible spaces. Reiser + Umemoto proposed two clusters of open flooring--one for tenants, the other for the museum--suspended dramatically from a superstructure. And no one reckoned with the real/virtual dynamic more arrestingly than Cohen, whose sculptural solution toggled together curves and beams to create two spaces, each playing off the other: a vision, in architecture, of separate equal realities.

Flexibility is the key to Thomas Leeser's design. Like most of the spaces, the lobby (below) is reconfigurable--bleachers and a screen can be brought out for screenings.
Courtesy Eyebeam

But had the competition produced, like its fabled predecessor, a template for a new kind of building? An answer could be gleaned from the finalists' schemes, which were announced five days later. The firms all sought to secure the individual's sovereignty within the shifting parameters of the virtual realm. Diller + Scofidio presented a two-ply ribbon folded over on itself, creating multiple levels. As the ribbon undulates--each side intermittently acting as floor, ceiling, or wall--it interweaves, sometimes joining, production and presentation spaces. The plan would also allow visitors to use the institution's multiple interactive technologies to customize their experience. The design posited a world in which real and virtual might--like an ideal interracial couple--marry and multiply without losing their identities.

MVRDV proposed a stunning interior void, pierced by hollow beams that encased the museum's functions, all with a skin of perforated white polyurethane--a galaxy of portals. Whereas Diller + Scofidio embraced hurly-burly, MVRDV suggested a benign separation of the communal and individual, mutually enclosed in the same structure.

Thomas Leeser's reconfigurable structure, catering to Eyebeam's evolving needs, was the least inspired. What did excite him was the prospect of uniting real and virtual communities in a building that wouldn't be entirely site-specific. His installation ideas--such as a floor that would display both human footprints and mouse movements from Eyebeam's Web site--brought the museum's online visitors into the physical space, and vice versa.

Each reached for something larger than the task. Revolutions in technology produce paroxysms, and all three firms instinctively seized on architecture's job at such moments: devising appropriate new forms to accommodate change. Considering the finalists' work--indeed all the competitors' work--in light of this challenge, it seemed there was a template here. Not for the new-media museum, but for a digitally infused multipurpose structure. Whether this amounts to another Chicago, only time will tell. But it is certainly a contribution--one that only a competition could have produced.

So who got the job? Not so fast.

 

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