Arkitectrue

by Phillip Diamond

The Bloch Building

By day, light is reflected into galleries below. At night, gallery lights will glow softly through the mix of translucent and transparent glass panels, like Japanese lanterns illuminating the Sculpture Park. The interplay between the interior and exterior makes this one of the most cap­tivating contemporary museum experiences since the opening of the Tate Modern, London. The new Bloch Building opens on June 9, 2007.

In the aerial site plan, the Bloch Building appears as five individual structures completely separated from the existing building. In fact, the entire complex is connected by the lobby, below-grade galleries, corridors, and a parking lot under the reflecting pool.

Five glass boxes rise from grass rooftops above the museum’s galleries and cascade down the hillside, merging with the Kansas City Sculpture Park. “If you stand there at dusk when the lights go on, you get this thrill? Holl says. “The building is reversing itself in front of you?

Internally, the lenses create vaulted ceilings and cathedral-like spaces. Externally, they ascend out of the ground as sculptural interventions, playing with the landscape and engaging visitors both inside and out to partake in the architectural experience. In between these glass lenses, and in some cases on top of them, a layer of grass creates a green roof where visitors can admire sculptures or relax with a picnic. This integration of landscape and architecture creates a building that is neither above nor below ground, but both at the same time.

Infused with Light

A large reflecting pool incorporating an installation by artist Walter De Maria graces the entry plaza. During the day natural light is directed through 34 circular lenses in the pool into the parking garage below. At night, light from the parking garage lifts up through the circles to illuminate the plaza.

The Bloch Building features a stunning lobby and soaring curved walls. The galleries’ floors drop in harmony with the slope of the south lawn. In opposition, as each gallery level steps down, the ceiling of that level peaks into a glass-enclosed lens that rises above the ground level.

A specially commissioned reflecting pool and land-art installation by Walter de Maria, One Sun / 34 Moons (top), has round windows in its base, accented by fluorescent lights (middle) that glow at night and during the day project sunlight through the ceiling of the garage below (above) like a series of moons.

Bloch Building Architect

In 1999, six architects were selected as finalists for the Nelson-Atkins expansion project. They were encouraged to view the north side of the Museum as the best site for the expansion, and most presented preliminary designs that followed that suggestion, with large buildings that used the original Nelson-Atkins as a backdrop.

One architect, however, broke all the rules. Steven Holl presented a design that ran along the east side of the Museum, tumbling into the Kansas City Sculpture Park and incorporating landscape and light as key elements in his overall plan. Rather than block the grand north façade of the original building, Holl’s design found its own space along the gently sloping eastern edge of the Museum’s 22-acre campus.

His design was a daring and unexpected solution to the Museum’s needs, balancing innovation with respect for the beloved Nelson-Atkins neoclassical building. Steven Holl was the clear choice of the Architectural Selection Committee and was selected as the Bloch Building architect in July 1999.

Considered one of America’s most important architects, Steven Holl is recognized for his ability to blend space and light with great sensitivity. He specializes in seamlessly integrating new projects into contexts with particular cultural and historic importance.

Holl has designed cultural, civic, academic and residential projects in both the United States and internationally. The Kiasma Museum of Contemporary is generally considered to be his masterpiece. Most recently, The School of Art and Art History at the University of Iowa received the AIA’s 2007 Institute Honor Award, their highest award for architecture.

Article By Phillip Diamond

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