Perspectives on the Guggenheim’s Museums: Repeating a Signature

The recent proposal for a Guggenheim in Helsinki inspired the Tocci team to reflect on the organization’s museums.

From Moises Berrun:

Architecture is a luxury of experience.  The train ride down green slopes toward Bilboa remains vivid.  The impact of seeing the Guggenheim lofted on the city’s shadowed rails remains fresh.  The moment was singular and the building could not be imagined elsewhere.  The singularity of the Guggenheim Bilboa is manifest through several distinctive features, from the celebrated curves to the articulation of the building’s surface.

The Guggenheim Foundation is proposing to recreate such an experience in Helsinki and add to their collection of signature art centers around the world.  The challenge is to produce an experience that is one of a kind, but also reliable.  Guggenheim Bilboa developed a standard for reinventing a city and also cemented the genius of the museum’s architect, Frank Gehry.  Can this be repeated?

As a construction manager, I’m most interested in the specifics of building, especially when it comes to predicting the sequence of operations.  What is interesting is that the complexity of the Guggenheim Bilboa seems to belie anything predictable.  Of added interest are the reports that the project was built on time and budget.

I don’t know first-hand about the specifics of the Guggenheim’s construction and of the reliability of the cost projections.  My account comes from Ben Flyvbjerg’s paper, “Design by Deception:  The Politics of Megaproject Approval,” in which he describes Frank Gehry’s “organization of the artist.”  Throughout the discussion between Ben and Frank, Frank describes how the use of digital design models demystifies the building elements.  The power in using digital design tools such as Revit, and in the case of Frank, CATIA, is the ability to record the design, categorize the building elements and develop a system of notation so that all of the building elements remain visible.  The ability to see the model and predict the end product is inherent in these digital design tools.

Sophisticated architects and contractors employing digital design tools see the building elements more clearly and are able to experience the building virtually before any ground breaks.  I, for one, am waiting to see the digital tools learn those baroque curves that are characteristic of Gehry’s oeuvre.

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