Building of the Month

Guggenheim Museum

Our head of Architectural Services, Mike Berryman, has chosen the Guggenheim Museum in New York as this week’s Building of the Month.

Mike says; “I find it amazing how the building has such a striking modern feel even though it was designed and built in the late 1950’s a true architectural masterpiece. When entering the building your eye is drawn up past the continuous display gallery to the glazed atrium above, and not that I frequent many galleries but this is the only one where I spent more time admiring the structure than the works displayed. “

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The Guggenheim Museum was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright at the request of Solomon R. Guggenheim in June 1943 to house his four year old museum ‘Museum of Non-Objective Painting’.

The project became a complex struggle with Wright pitted against city officials, the art world, public opinion and even his own client at times in order to achieve his vision. He had made no secret that he disliked Guggenheim’s choice of New York as a location, writing in 1949; “I can think of several more desirable places in the world to build his great museum, but we will have to try New York”. After considering several locations around New York, its current location on Fifth Avenue, between 88th and 89th Street was selected, primarily due to its close proximity to Central Park, which in Guggenheim’s opinion was as close to nature as New York City could offer and afforded a respite from the natural hustle and noise of the city.

©Mike Berryman

©Mike Berryman

Wright’s design was ground breaking in terms of museum design. Traditionally, visitors would enter and view the exhibits in a series of interconnecting rooms, retracting their steps to exit. Wright, however, envisioned an inverted ziggurat (a stepped pyramid built in the days of ancient Mesopotamia), which would take visitors by lift to the top, allowing them to descend at a leisurely pace down the gently sloping ramp, although this vision was not entirely realised as visitors currently ascend the ramp.  Throughout there is also a strong sense of Wright’s own take on the geometry favoured in modernist architecture. Triangles, arcs, circles, ovals and squares are echoed throughout the building. Wright received much in the way of criticism from the art world in particular for fear that his iconic museum would overpower the art on display.

The building was finally opened to the public on 21st October 1959, 10 years after the death of Guggenheim, and six months after the death of Wright. Although it divided critics initially, it is now viewed as a landmark work in 20th century architecture and is seen to be Wright’s most recognisable masterpiece.

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