Architype Dialogue presents
Preston Scott Cohen
What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?
The predicament facing architecture, with respect to the museum, is the conflict between two opposing paradigms, both mandated by cultural developments out of any individual’s control. On the one hand, the museum as spectacle: clearly, we are still living in the afterglow of the “Bilbao” effect. On the other hand, the museum as container of neutral white boxes, volumes available for flexible curatorial programs. In the first, architecture is called on to offer itself most conspicuously, providing an exceptionally theatrical space in which the public witnesses the unfolding of social events. In the latter, architecture is asked to disappear. The Tel Aviv museum is an overt attempt to marry these two incompatible types of space within a single, new building type. It is as dedicated to creating diverse social experiences within spectacular spaces as it is to supporting the exhibition of art in adjacent spaces that in no way compete for the spectator’s attention.
Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?
The simultaneous appearance and disappearance of the architect in the life of the museum gives evidence to the significance of ambivalence as an inevitable fact and as a mode of critical thought and judgment in the face of conflicting functional imperatives, political motives, and individual desires. At the same time, the Tel Aviv Museum was only possible by virtue of the incredible boldness of initiative and the trust of a donor and a director who truly believed in architectural speculation. More than anything, I learned that the production of paradigmatically significant architecture is only possible when you are working with great people with whom you build a deep relationship of trust.
How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?
Undoubtedly, it is the ability to communicate instantly, with models and drawings, across oceans and seas that has most transformed the production of projects located abroad. It is also true that the capacity to integrate structural and mechanical systems by means of three dimensional computer modeling is having an enormous impact. In the case of the Tel Aviv museum, it allowed the development of a complex and super tight project in a site that required the most efficient use of all service cavities. Amit Nemlich, the project architect, and I were definitely inspired by the capacity of these tools to combine systems in a remarkable way. Probably more obvious is the way in which the digital modeling allowed the development of the museum’s surface geometries. But, I need not tell you more about this since everyone knows already how these are being afforded by the new computational means.
In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?
The rigorous experimentation with surface geometries is one of the influences. It is in the context of teaching young architects that these ideas developed. The students have contributed enormously, indirectly and directly, to my work. But, I think the critical assessments and inquiries about architecture’s role in society, which can only flourish in the context of the academy, have had the greatest impact. These have shaped my ambitions in ways that are too profound to describe. They motivate my ongoing development of design curriculum, key to the development of the actual projects. Indeed, I can show precisely how the GSD’s first year studio curriculum, that I have been developing for the past seventeen years, has conceptually grounded the primary ideas of the Tel Aviv Museum and all the other projects. The Harvard Symposia on Architecture series which I am presently working on with other professors in the school, aims to foster the kind of reception of architectural thought necessary for the sustenance of architectural culture in the face of sustainability.