Palimpsest and Emotion : The Cultural spaces
Palimpsest and Emotion
The Cultural spaces
Nargisse Rafik, July 29, 2018
Design Zentrum
Design Zentrum

Special Feature


Of course, in areas already recognized for their historic significance, some industrial buildings have been able to take advantage of the support of public authorities for their conversion – the Darling Foundry in Old Montreal, now a centre for contemporary art, is a good example. But a clear distinction must be made between notions of modern and industrial heritages, in that the characteristics of their styles and techniques do not generate the same degree of interest, and that industrial heritage also necessarily includes engineering structures. This overview of heritage issues common to many industrial countries shows that one of the great challenges for twenty-first century architects will be the heritage of the twentieth century. 

Here we will focus on architectural achievements that illustrate the rapport between conversion and cultural centres, as museum transformations were in the vanguard of the conversion movement in the eighties (the Louvre, by I.M. Pei; the British Museum by Sir Norman Foster). We have chosen to present conversions of three industrial buildings and one modern building, as we feel that they represent particular contemporary approaches.

Tate Modern Gallery
Tate Modern Gallery


Our awareness of the value of buildings as witnesses of history contributes to their conservation or conversion. Thus they become architectural landmarks that shape the organic continuity of the city and its visible history. Premodern buildings have benefited from many different heritage policies, first in Europe, where the conservation of a broad variety of architectures provides texture to cities with ancient centres, and later in North America. 

In May 2005, the first Pan-Canadian Conference on Modern Heritage, sponsored by Docomomo, was held at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. Later, at Montreal’s Opération Patrimoine architectural 2005, two important prizes were awarded: one to the Jean-Louis Lévesque house in Outremont, conceived in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright; the other to a residential complex on Corot St., Nun’s Island, built in the style of Mies van der Rohe. To confirm this trend towards change, the City of Montreal’s new urban plan, which came into force this year, differs markedly from its 1994 predecessor regarding modern heritage buildings. Heritage sites – major and minor – of the modern era are now subject to a meticulous inventory and areas of interest are catalogued (such as certain residential developments from the 1950s in the Montreal suburbs). The concerns of Docomomo and its Canadian and international counterparts have been leveraged.

Design Zentrum
Design Zentrum

The Design Museum – Essen

1994-1997 

Building and Location

Designed in 1932 by architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer, this building was a coal-fired power plant where the central building housed the boilers of the Zollverein XII mining complex, which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When the mine closed in 1988, the chimney was destroyed for safety reasons, well before the building conversion. The site reopened in 1997 and today it houses the collection of the Red Dot Design Museum’s collection, in the site renamed Design Zentrum.

The project managers for this conversion were architects from Foster and Partners, known for their spectacular style and their avant-garde work (such as the Swiss Re “ecological” skyscraper in London), and winners of the RIBA Stirling prize in 2004.

The Project

In this conversion, the exterior of this imposing building was scrupulously respected. Its Dudok-style brick facing and its metal armature were retained. The transformation focused on the boiler room. The machines were left in their decrepit state and now contrast with exposed design elements. From this central area the space is demarcated by a series of niches, where contemporary art works are displayed, manipulated, or hung. Elevated walkways provide unique viewpoints on this spatial narrative.

Design Zentrum
Design Zentrum

The added structures, in light, bright, modern materials, are clearly distinguished and accentuate the surfaces of the industrial vestiges, which are worn by time and rust. Contrasts are also found in the lighting treatment: the natural light plays against the coloured, high-tech beams.

Thus moving through the space is like taking a carefully orchestrated trip – fraught with unexpected cultural references – through the strata of time.

 


The Tate Modern Gallery – London


1994-2000
Surface area: 11,150 m2 (120,000 sq. ft.) exhibition space 

Building and Location

Opened in 2000, the Tate Modern Gallery welcomed its new public in a converted power station. The immense red brick building was the work of Giles Gilbert Scott, who completed the finishing touches in 1933. Financed by the English national lottery, this conversion was also intended to revitalize the Bankside industrial area. The Millennium Bridge, designed by architect Sir Norman Foster and sculptor Sir Anthony Caro, was built at the same time. This bridge links the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral to the new museum and integrates this bank of the Thames to the city.

The project managers for this conversion were architects from the Swiss firm Herzog & Meuron, who won the 2001 Pritzker Prize for their work.

The Project

The central tower, a visual point of reference in the area, was separated from the main building by the removal of its retaining walls. The former turbine room was stripped of machinery to create a very long space for the main gallery space and concourse. The architects worked masterfully within this highly directional space, which is 26 metres high and 152 metres long: on the lower levels, the reception and service areas extend over the length of the building; on the upper levels, the side rooms, conceived as chambers from which one still see the installations in the main gallery, and whose white perimeter is accentuated with white light, house other display spaces. They are drenched with natural light from narrow apertures which rise up rhythmically along the length of the exterior wall. Seen from the main gallery, the contrast between the white frames and the ubiquitous red brick defines the walls. Steel ramps are suspended above the gallery, allowing for different vantage points from which one can contemplate works that are themselves of architectural scale, such as Louise Bourgeois’ famous spiders, exhibited in this space in 2000.

Outside, a steel ramp links the pedestrian level to the main entrance of the west façade.

The most indisputably modern touch is a two-storey stained glass window at the top of the building, where a restaurant and other public rooms are installed. Its crystalline spaces are accentuated by an illuminated ramp that, combined with the lighting from the tower’s summit and building’s base, highlights the Tate against the night sky.


Palais de Tokyo P. Marc Domage
Palais de Tokyo P. Marc Domage

Palais de Tokyo, space for contemporary arts - Paris

1999-2002
Surface area: 8,000 m2 86, 000 sq. ft.), half of which is dedicated to exhibitions and open to the public
 
Building and Location

The present Palais de Tokyo building, space for contemporary arts (originally the Palais des musées d’art moderne of the museums of modern art) was built in 1937 for the Exposition internationale de Paris. It comprises two individual buildings: the west wing, owned by the State; and the east wing, owned by the City of Paris. Of monumental scale, their facades of comblanchien and travertine extend along either side of a portico, giving out onto a terrace along the banks of the Seine. The main entrance, in a corner of the site of the contemporary building opens onto a space that, today, is in strong contrast to its exterior. Conceived from the outset as a space for culture and exhibitions, it has undergone major modernization, first in 1954 and again in 1971. In 1999 the ministry for culture and communications launched a competition for the proposed space for contemporary arts, to be housed in the structure once intended for the Palais du cinéma.

Architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, known for their organic approach to the design of individual homes, won the competition.

Palais de Tokyo P. Kleinefenn
Palais de Tokyo P. Kleinefenn

The Project

The new work on form and structure for the exhibition space maintained and utilized the original modern features of the structure, such as concrete posts and beams, and large windows. The demarcation of the spaces is straightforward: they evoke open cultural spaces such as Jemâa el Fna square in Marrakech, spaces which naturally encourage spontaneous interaction and movement. The interior walls have been left rough, symbolizing industrial decay.

Everything is has been designed for aesthetic contrast and versatility.. For instance, the windows have been temporarily transformed into frames for Beat Streuli’s photographs, which can be viewed from both sides of the building’s exterior.

The creation a mobile and flexible space, one adapted to the functions and requirements of contemporary arts, contrasts with the historical perspective of the building one gets when it is viewed from the banks of the Seine. The architects have played on a broad range of senses, with a nod to classical architectural history and the emphasis it places on the sense of sight. In fact, one requirement of the project was to ensure that the structure maintained consistently comfortable temperatures and maximum exposure to natural light – a challenge when considering the orientation and visuality of its imposing spaces. All of this subtle fine-tuning has, in immaterial and subliminal ways, made this space culturally habitable.

Parisian Laundry P. Nicolas Ruel
Parisian Laundry P. Nicolas Ruel

The Parisian Laundry – Montreal

2001-2004
Surface area: 1,400 m2 (15,000 sq. ft.) 

Building and Location

Located in the former industrial district of Saint-Henri, the building of the current Parisian Laundry gallery was built between 1929 and 1933 to house the former commercial laundry of the same name. After a period of neglect and several proprietors later, the conversion work, which took place in stages over a period of two and a half years, was initiated by a Montreal entrepreneur.

The project managers who designed the conversion were Julien Architectes in Montreal. They won the Medal of Excellence in the 1999 Governor General's Award for Architecture, for the Centre d’intérêt minier de Chibougamou, which showcases their extremely minimalist and precise concept of architecture.

The Project

The architects’ work was guided by their client’s desire to restore the building’s structure as much as possible. Thus, the brick masonry was not altered by new insulation work and the interior masonry was preserved. The large windows were restored to their original condition. Prior to the transformation, the windows were obstructed and the brickwork was in poor condition. Today, they have regained their lustre, and the juxtaposition of semi-circular window arches with the door lintel and flanking pilasters creates a harmonious rhythm for the main facade. The mullioned windows are typical of industrial architecture. The architects also kept the interior space free from obstruction by putting new staircases on the building's exterior. The interior features exposed timber beams, which give warmth to this stripped-down masterpiece.

Parisian Laundry P. Alain Lefort
Parisian Laundry P. Alain Lefort

The modern flourishes are clearly discernible, but unostentatious: subtly rendered in a contemporary industrial idiom, they feature stainless steel (staircase) or light fixtures that are deliberately stark and functional in appearance.

This rare building has windows on all four sides - rather than the skylights and solid walls typical of industrial buildings of the period. A gallery space that’s pleasing to the eye, the Parisian Laundry is a welcoming space where the ambiance varies according to the day’s rhythm. During the day, the interior feels much larger, as it is open to the street on all sides, which intensifies the feeling of exposure. At night, it is the exterior that appears transparent and open. A little gem of urban conversion, this gallery stamps the cityscape with a unique imprint.

Design Zentrum P. David Klammer
Design Zentrum P. David Klammer

Cultural Spaces / A Question of Space

Museums, no longer focussed exclusively on what they display, now seek to enhance visitor experience and encourage their participation. Recently, museums have found an ideal home in industrial buildings, which have the unusual quality of offering interplay in proportions and flexibility way beyond the norm. Today, such spaces constitute a paradigm of contemporary aesthetics.

In these contemporary exhibition spaces where change and creativity are constants, the emphasis is on the emotional experience of the public space – one of the fundamental aspects of architecture. This global experience is being explored in small-scale events that will point the way to the future. Of course, change is nothing new for museums, already challenged by other aspects of contemporary art, but we are seeing an increasing freedom in the use of space finally being put into play. The settings play on the differences of scale of the structures: between the height of the ceiling, the span of the walkways, etc.; on the qualities of the materials; or the contrasts of textures and colours between old and new, each more or less highlighted according to the exhibition; as well as on the relations between the natural and artificial light framing the immaterial space – all of which contribute to one’s feeling of being hermetically sealed within the artistic or aesthetic experience.

Thus the overall building-conversion process appears to be an exercise in stylistic palimpsest, while also giving rise to complex and innovative architectural solutions that confirm, as Auguste Perret said, that “the object and function of buildings are the transitory conditions of architecture”.