Recently I visited Bard College in upstate New York with my family and we parked next to the music center designed by architect Frank Gehry. And like all people of my generation I was excited to experience a work by this very popular man. The building’s first impression was very good, that undulating sheet metal is hard not to like, it’s flashy, fluid and organic, seemingly counter-intuitive to our expectations of structure.
i’m not going to write a long essay here but i wanted to say upon entering the building i was surprised by how uninviting the interior was and how non-undulating, non-organic the embodied experience of the building became. as you see in the photos, the ribs and metal roof structure are naked and exposed when you are inside, and feels somewhat oppressive. the inside of the lobby is cramped and there is very little conscious use of light or relationship between the roof and the interior which was quite typical. the raw concrete pillars and the painted i-beams seemed a ghastly unadorned set of choices. it was as if i was behind a stage, looking at the guts of a facade.
as you see in the photos i was struck by the slate roof on one of the older buildings that neighbored Gehry’s. I thought it was interesting that the slate pattern was not much different than Gehry’s roof, and then I realized that this was not a Gehry building, this was a Gehry roof, a fanciful fluid metal adornment to a rather conservative building. as you can see from my picture of the stage, taken without flash, the inside was unremarkable. I took some pictures of the metal sheeting, and in particular, the adjoining edges of two ‘walls’. i wanted to point out the imprecision of it, and the ways in which this flashy fashionable building failed upon closer inspection to elicit real wonder. I have seen a few buildings by I.M. Pei, and was struck by the cleanliness of his buildings and structures.
I enjoyed the documentary on Gehry directed by Sidney Pollack. He seemed an interesting man, but I had to struggle to maintain admiration after seeing this building at Bard. It seems to reflect, no pun intended, the sensationalism that goes into a lot of what we now call culture. I have never been to Bilbao, but after seeing this building I worry I would find the same faults with that building.
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