Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Des Moines Art Center Addition by Richard Meier

Des Moines, Iowa, 1982–1984. Photograph of a page spread from the book titled, Richard Meier Architect 1985/1991. Rizzoli International Publications published the book in 1991. The book was designed by Massimo Vignelli with a graceful and thoughtfully structured grid system in the modernist tradition.

From a graphic design perspective studying the work of architects can be helpful. Especially looking at their problem solving process. In this complex project for the Des Moines Art Center Richard Meier was successful adding on to a piece of architecture built in the 1940s and designed by Eliel Saarinen. The building also comprised an addition designed by I.M. Pei that was added in the 1960s.

Meier says this about the project:
The challenge here was to build a museum space as an addition to the works of two greatly respected architects. There were two ways to deal with the context. One was to create a counterpoint which is respectful but which has its own existence and projects a conscience presence. I chose the latter. —Page 132

Meier also writes this about the building design:
The overall plan of this addition derives from a nine-point grid, in which the central square is pushed up to provide a four-column internal atrium, lit by clerestory windows and perimeter skylights. This cubic volume is sheathed in granite and covered by a flattened pyrimid that is a foil to the butterfly-section roof employed b Pei. A third smaller addition, accommodating services and additional gallery space above, is attached to the west wing of the Saarinen building, thus completing the discrete amplification of the complex by three separate additions of different sizes. —Page 129

West elevation. The white facing material clads four foot square metal panels. Photograph © 2010 David Versluis

It’s amazing how Meier was able to imagine the transition of spaces from the older to the newer. Meier uses light as a means to very successfully make the transition and the exterior seems to echo that interior light. Actually, the interior as well as the exterior light effects suggests a church-like emotive quality.

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