The architectural ‘poets’ behind the city’s newest art gallery
In 2015, this concept was developed in the Grace Farms project in Connecticut, USA, where a series of round glass buildings are dotted on a hill connected by a winding roof and an exterior path.
In Paris, milky glass ripples on a contemporary facade of the newly refurbished French department store La Samaritaine on the busy Rue de Rivoli.
In Sydney, these curves have become earthy, organic and massive, with a 250-metre-long adobe wall winding through the building.
Working in a partnership known as SANAA for 30 years, Nishizawa and Sejima’s designs often offer a two-way view of the world – outside-in and inside-out.
In Sydney, visitors don’t even have to enter the new gallery to enjoy the art. by Lorraine Connelly-Northey Narrbong-galang (many bags) 2022 hangs on the wall of the new Yiribana Gallery in full view of anyone walking along Art Gallery Road.
SANAA does not like traditional borders – the architects believe that the gallery should be part of the landscape, not something separate. They avoid sudden stops at room entrances and blur the gap between inside and outside. The new wing has a curved roof terrace above the cafe, and other terraces offer views through glass of the outside gardens and views.
Expect some playful touches too. Inside the new gallery, a staircase seems to appear out of nowhere, like those in an Escher print. The entrance hall slopes slightly, on a slope of 1h40 (one meter of descent every 40 meters of width), attracting visitors towards the center of the building. This gentle slope is an attenuated execution of the curved floors and ceilings of the Rolex Learning Center in Switzerland.
Sejima often says that she was inspired to create places that felt like public parks, which brought together people who didn’t usually gather.
“Our design is not flashy architecture, but an experiment with art. I think the special thing is that you can enjoy the natural beauty of Sydney, these buildings and the art all together,” a- she declared. DesignBoom.
SANAA has waited decades for one of its projects to be realized in Sydney. In 1997, they won an international competition to design the new Mordant wing of the Museum of Contemporary Art. It did not work.
Since then, however, their status has grown.
It was SANAA’s design for the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, completed in 2005, that popularized their work internationally and brought them to cult status.
The architects sought to reinvent and democratize the gallery, seeking to make it a new “public square” for the city.
Kanazawa was a “revealing overhaul of the white box gallery,” said Dr. Gene Sherman, a philanthropist and art critic who helped fund the new gallery after being inspired by their work for decades.
A traditional gallery like the old AGNSW wing has rooms branching off from a central hallway. In Kanazawa, an exterior corridor wraps around the circular building.
Sejima told Sherman that she was interested in creating “a moment, or a space that gently appears and disappears, rather than an architecturally constructed space.”
Under the title “Disappearing Act”, a New York Times article in 2005 by author and art critic Arthur Lubow reflected on how their buildings provided so much physical pleasure. “This sorcery has helped propel SANAA in recent years from cult status,” known only to a few architectural insiders, “to winner of prestigious awards,” reported the Time.
Yet their design for New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art, completed in 2007, has been accused of being fanciful. The New Republic described it as a parched minimalism, lacking sunshine, with narrow hallways and slow elevators.
In 2010, the duo won the world’s most prestigious architecture award, the Pritzker Prize, joining the ranks of Jorn Utzon, Glenn Murcutt, Renzo Piano, Jean-Philippe Vassal and Anne Lacaton, and winner of the year last, Diebedo Francis Kere.
Lord Peter Palumbo, Chairman of the Prize, described SANAA’s work as “both delicate and powerful, precise and fluid, ingenious but not overly or overtly intelligent”.
SANAA is sometimes criticized for ignoring context and not using local materials. Burke said the Sydney building would not scream to visitors. “It’s not ostentatious or flamboyant, it works soft on you, it’s not all frills and trinkets,” he said.
Commissioned by AGNSW to write about SANAA’s design for a book next year, Burke said SANAA is “gently, gently opening up to context” in Sydney. The rammed-earth walls mirror the Sydney sandstone of the old gallery wing, the resin of the foyer’s bookstore glows a warm red. The concrete floor blends these colors together with the pale sand color of the limestone.
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