a version of this approach that would be better than simply
adding another building to the site. My recommendation is
to raise the preservation concerns and let the design team
RH: The gallery finds itself in dire need of expansion and
nowhere to expand to without disrupting Bunshaft’s design.
The elegance and beauty of Bunshaft’s exterior solution is not
in doubt. (The interior is another matter.) From the outside,
his black minimalist glass box set on the far end of a long, low
white plinth is in canny occult balance to E. B. Green’s white
DS: The Olmsted vision for this part of the park was wiped
away more than 100 years ago when the original gallery was
built and an entirely new landscape design was imposed. The
park was further eroded when surface parking was added in
the early 1960s leaving a severely degraded front yard for the
museum. It’s disingenuous to say that the degraded park environment is sacrosanct, while Bunshaft’s addition is not.
When the Bunshaft wing was added, it significantly
modified the 1905 building, eliminating a grand staircase
facing Elmwood, and altering the symmetrical footprint
for the building. The dramatic Elmwood entrance was
replaced with a small cubic glass entryway. And yet that
design met with general approval. Why was that rather
dramatic alteration of the existing building acceptable,
where this proposal is not?
MT: I’m guessing that had Facebook and blogs existed in
the sixties, there would have been pushback to Bunshaft’s
radical transformation. Prior to Bunshaft’s design, the Green
building would likely have been viewed as a classically platonic, hermetically sealed, pure object totally incompatible with
Modernist asymmetry. So, the lesson I take from our generation’s love of the Bunshaft building is that great design can
lead to unexpected epiphanies and resolutions.
DS: The Knox wing is a sublime work of architecture. It
manages to make its own visual statement without grabbing
for all the attention. It allows the E. B. Green building to
remain as the primary focus of the composition, as its classical architecture demands. The Knox wing sits gently against
the original building, making reference to its scale, materiality, and quality of construction.
RH: But perfection has its drawbacks; put an apple out
there anywhere on that plinth and you upset Bunshaft’s exqui-
DS: Proponents of the OMA concept rightfully point to
reintroduction of the Elmwood stair as a positive element
of the design. But that could easily be reintroduced without
demolishing any part of the 1962 building. The OMA proposal represents the opposite approach to the quiet Bunshaft
concept. There is nothing quiet about the OMA proposal. It’s
like the loudmouth at the party who wants to be heard above
RH: Any new expansion requires connectivity. Nobody
wants a tunnel-access annex, and most would not be happy
with a modish mole hole buried in the present parking lot.
Any solution will diminish Bunshaft. You can’t get around it.
Expand the footprint and add a new box to one side or the
other, no matter how it is designed, and you have one big tug
on the eyeballs that makes Bunshaft’s box look incidental, if
not extraneous. There is only one place to go: in the very gap
that creates the dynamism of Bunshaft’s design.
Speaking of that gap, the proposed design concept gives
RH: What you gain by this gap assault is immense: a grand
the public access to the park through the glass atrium,
even when they are not visiting the gallery. Currently,
you can get to the park by walking around the museum,
though both routes are not particularly welcoming or
attractive. The concept proposal provides something of
a grand entrance to the park, which better integrates the
museum with its surroundings. Putting aside other issues,
how do you feel about this concept?
MT: I love this idea. I encourage everyone to go look for
themselves. If you stand on the north side of the AKAG, you
will see a blank wall and a basement egress stair. Again, the
most orthodox preservationists may say that this condition,
too, is sacrosanct. Personally, I can imagine a way to pierce
this facade while also respecting the integrity of the Bunshaft
plinth. This is one of Shigematsu’s many design challenges.
entryway to replace Bunshaft’s pee-wee sized vestibule and—
importantly—a unification of the park’s front and back, both
visually and spatially.
DS: This concept of the glass atrium as an entry to the
park is a bit disingenuous. Is this atrium space pass-through
going to be open twenty-four hours a day? Will there really be a view through to the park or will shades be drawn to
block sun damage? Why is this particular axis now such an
important place to enter the park? Olmsted designed Lincoln
Parkway as the park’s grand entry. Is his vision no longer valid? It was noted that the current passage around the museum is not attractive. The OMA design team includes one of
the most respected landscape architects working today. Is it
not possible to enhance this passage without destroying the
DS: The E. B. Green and Bunshaft buildings are extremely important works of American architecture. Any change to
these buildings cannot be taken lightly. The expansion proposal is not simply a change, but a wholesale elimination of a
major part of the gallery complex. Gordon Bunshaft is among
the most important architects in the history of architecture.
That he is from Buffalo and produced this wonderful building for Buffalo is something to take note of. Demolition of
the Bunshaft wing should be a nonstarter. The Gallery needs
to look on these buildings as part of their world-class collection of art. What other sculpture or painting in the collection
would they offer up for this kind of treatment?
RH: What OMA needs to do is to get as much air under its
design as possible. It needs a sense of lift, a thing that treads
lightly—dances even—on Bunshaft’s plinth and bows gracefully equally in two directions, toward E. B. Green iconic columns and towards Bunshaft’s reflective box.
MT: You should be very skeptical of anyone who offers
an alternative architect or design solution. The best critics
will usually state their values and concerns—not jump to an
undemocratic process or partially considered conclusion.
Try to understand the difference between the final design
and this design direction. I compare these early design stages to the way you look in the mirror a few minutes at a new
haircut. It can be awkward and uncanny. We should evaluate and critique the design direction—consolidation—not the
image—floating blocks. Finally, if you are critiquing the process, please also make sure to update your membership with
the museum. Our generation sometimes confuses posting an
opinion on social media with genuine civic engagement. They
are not the same thing.
Artist and educator Bruce Adams writes on many topics for Spree,
including his new online column, Long Story Short.