The Guggenheim: A Social Organism
For this article, I would like to share with all of you the research I have come about for the Guggenheim Museum in New York, by Frank Lloyd Wright. How is this structure environmental in its ways?
* This article was written by Maria Flores, The Archiologist Founder; All pictures belong and are taken by Maria Flores.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim, by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is an art museum located at 1071 Fifth Avenue and 89th Street in Manhattan, New York City. The museum is known as a landmark building of 20th century architecture and has been conceived as the start of organic architecture. The museum is a concrete structure of indescribable individuality which stands out from the rest of the buildings around it and although it is situated in a congested city, the architect develops different ways to link openness and light with his design. Wright paid attention to every detail, including the relationship between the museum and Central Park. He believed that the Guggenheim without nature was not a museum to enjoy. Finally, he also paid attention to how individuals would experience the museum, from the outside as well as on the inside. Frank Lloyd Wright introduces ways of progression from public spaces to more private areas. He introduces the concept of a sloped ramp, for the museum circulatory system, creating a market-like experience for the individuals.
At the street level, experiencing the Guggenheim is an incredible experience. As you walk north on Fifth Avenue, “you pass block after block of tall apartment buildings that have a relative uniformity.” As seen on image 1, rectangular buildings are colored red while the Guggenheim stands out in a purple shade. The apartments have the same facade and same ornamentation. They also have similar earth tone colors and rectangular shape. On the opposite side of the street, a stone wall signals the extent of Central Park.
There is a national museum, a church, a gallery, and a school around, but their facades are classical and plain. When people see ahead, they start feeling the sense to keep walking. When reaching 88th street, the street opens up, buildings start getting vertically smaller, and light and air are abounding. At this moment, people know they have reached the Guggenheim museum. The museum counters the regularity of the surrounding buildings with a circular, horizontal and sculpted facade. Individuals also start noticing that the circle is the main motif as they approach the building, surrounded by oval and circular pavers. The building itself becomes a work of art. Not only that, but the museum is a complete different color from the other buildings around it. “It is pure white concrete, which makes it look prominent but light at the same time.” From wherever you reach the Guggenheim, be it Fifth Avenue or 89th Street, the view to the museum will always be blocked by taller buildings. Image 2 analyzes the surrounding structures and how they block people’s views to the museum. Views that are blocked are pictured red, while straight views are purple. The best views of the Guggenheim are the ones from the exact front. Behind the Guggenheim, there is a tall brick structure that blocks the view to the museum from 88th and 89th street, as seen on the image below. So when people finally arrive through these streets, their view of the museum when they turn around and face it is even more shocking and emotional.
Although Frank Lloyd Wright was not a fan of Manhattan, “he believed that what saved the museum’s site and concept was its proximity to Central Park.” Central Park is the closest anyone can get to nature in the busy New York City. Throughout the streets, it is often difficult to see trees or patches of grass since the skyscrapers are the focal point of the metropolis. Central Park is a region that affords relief from the noise and the congestion of the surroundings. The streets of New York are also very crowded and people are often absorbed in their every day thoughts and work schedule. For this reason, Wright decided to create openness and public space for visitors arriving at the Guggenheim. He doubled the width of the sidewalk and created seating areas with grass and trees around the entrance for people to sit. Image 2 shows a perspective view that depicts the trees and plants growing around the museum and its connection to nature. For this reason, people are always perched up on the outskirts of the museum, creating a welcome lounge and seating area. Even if the individual has somewhere to be or is busy, they will stop to look up at the building just because the white concrete draws light and attention. Individuals are able to take in sun, enjoy the nature around them and purchase snacks and art pieces from the street vendors or from the Guggenheim gift shop just next to it. Realistically, the Guggenheim has an interesting relationship between the buildings and the surrounding environments. The museum compliments its environment by creating a single and unified space that appears to “grow naturally” out of the ground. The facade is also full of plants and trees around it, linking the entrance to Central Park just one block away more prominent.
The approach of the individual to the entrance of the museum is simple and understated. After having walked through the welcome lobby outside, the entrance has more of a low ceiling, contrasting with the openness at the entrance. Image 3 shows the route people take to go in the museum and the circulation around it inside. After getting the ticket to go in, the rotunda draws the individual’s eye to the skylight above. The whole concept behind having the skylight immediately when the person goes in, is to have the individual go through a series of progressions: the outside is very open and airy, the entrance has a low ceiling and is dark, the main lobby where the skylight recedes is tall and open, with beautiful light and shadows making people look insignificant compared to the big scale of the building. The person cannot get to the works of art yet, because experiencing the building is more important first. Image 4 shows how natural light enters the building in public spaces, and how private spaces are gloomier.
The spiral ramps are found all around the main lobby, and after looking at the skylight, individuals tend to look around at all directions above them, finding people walking down the ramps. Here, the visitors do not have to retrace their footsteps, they take an elevator to the top floor and make their way down the sloped ramp, maybe stopping at the gift shop at the top level. The rotunda floor acts almost like a town plaza or a marketplace, visitors on the ramp view the works of art but are also aware of the people around them. Image 5 depicts a section revealing the distance every individual is at inside of the museum. Most people can be found to have a public distance in between, around 12 feet up to 25 feet. Other people can spot individuals at even 70 feet in distance but still feels connected to them.
The individual cannot experience the museum just by sitting somewhere, they have to go around the spiral and look around because the view is always changing. Asides from the works of art, which are illuminated softly by natural light from the top, there are small rooms and wall openings where private galleries are located. These rooms are darkly-lit to create more privacy and anticipation. Other rooms contain paintings by known artists such as Degas, Picasso and Kandinsky. There is also a cafe, where individuals sit down and have a talk with colleagues and friends, where another skylight, smaller in size, appears just above. From the cafe however, there is a view to the buildings around, even though the blinds are always down at the Guggenheim, to create a serene and calm environment.
To tie it all together, the Guggenheim museum is a work of architecture that accommodates individuals at a large scale. Socially, it is a building that fixes many inadequacies of metropolises. It is a building that connects with its context at a bigger scale than just looking like the buildings around it. In fact, it breaks the continuity of the environment and the city, and still looks like it belongs there, even though it is individualized and circular. The Guggenheim creates public and open spaces where people can sit down and feel welcomed with a lot of nature around them. This is how Wright creates the connection between Central Park and the museum. The entrance is a place to wait, sit down and take a break, or just buy artifacts from the gift shop or from the street vendors. It is a place to pause and admire the building. When going inside, visitors feel disconnected from the outside world, there is no sound from the busy New York City and there is mild light that creates a serene and relaxing environment. The inside of the museum acts as a town plaza, where even though there are things to look at, individuals can see each other regardless of where they are standing; be it on level 5 or level 2 of the Guggenheim. There are more private rooms that lead to more important galleries and a cafe where people can talk or retreat, as well as hidden stairs on a corner of the building. For this reason, the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum by Frank Lloyd Wright is recognized worldwide as an architectural masterpiece that connects with New York socially.