On a recent trip to Ohio, I had the opportunity to visit the Akron Art Museum designed by Coop Himmelb(l)au. The 2007 building, which consists of a collection of colliding steel and glass wedges, is actually an expansion of an 1899 brick structure. True to form, Coop Himmelb(l)au's addition appears to ram aggressively into the historic building, with a steel mesh roof cantilevering over the original museum.
This project reminded me of Coop Himmelb(l)au's Busan Cinema Center in South Korea, which was built last year. At first, this connection might seem tenuous due to differences between the buildings. For example, the John S. and James L. Knight addition in Akron is 63,300 square feet, the bulk of which consists of enclosed painting and sculpture galleries. In contrast, the Busan Cinema Center is actually a collection of three buildings comprising 620,000 square feet—or roughly 10 times the size of the Knight addition—featuring a massive outdoor covered plaza.
Despite these differences, though, the projects share at least one thing in common: the enhancement of social activity within structures that appear to push the physical limits of material. Based on this similarity, the pairing of these works demonstrates the extent to which this accomplishment can be achieved in spite of differences in scale.
The Busan Cinema Center's most visually striking contribution is a 60m-by-160m overhanging roof structure. This feat of engineering is over twice the size of a soccer field and the largest cantilevered roof in the world. In addition, the surface of this urban ceiling is illuminated by 42,600 colored LED lights that cycle through various animated programs. The center includes several theaters and performing arts stages, including an outdoor amphitheater that spills out onto the main public plaza. The project's remarkable features and dense urban location make it an ideal vehicle for public engagement.
The Akron Art Museum is clearly a much smaller project, located within a much more intimate neighborhood. Because the building's program is dominated by enclosed galleries, the architect faced an additional challenge in dedicating ample public space within a small footprint. Nevertheless, Coop Himmelb(l)au's museum extension in Akron is endowed with a highly accessible lobby and circulation network that welcomes the public from both sides of the existing building. The multistory glass foyer is traversed by bridges and flooded with light, making a small museum seem much larger than it is. As a result, the Knight building provides Akron with its own captivating and grandiose space for public activity, adjusted to fit its own urban context.
Blaine Brownell is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.