Where would GSP readers assume influential Austrian architecture firm Coop Himmelblau would execute its first American project? Not quite New York or Los Angeles, Akron, a rust belt city in Ohio, is the unlikely host of Wolf Prix and Helmut Swiczinsky's bold new addition to the Akron Art Museum.
Coop Himmelblau has a successful history of juxtaposing contemporary and classical buildings, which it successfully implements in the Akron Art Museum. The building, which opened July 17, 2007, joins the original brick structure to a wildly cantilevered, deconstructivist addition. The first Akron Art Museum building is an attractive but unremarkable Renaissance Revival structure built in 1899 that originally housed a post office. The 63,300 square foot addition, referred to as the Knight Building, is a complexly engineered lattice work of steel and glass. A punched through opening on the south wall connects the original building, which houses educational and administrative functions, to the three-story glass lobby called the “Crystal.” The “Gallery Box” is a fifty-two foot cantilever that houses traveling exhibitions and gallery spaces. Covering both the old and new structures, is an embracing 327-foot cantilevered steel and aluminum roof called the “Roof Cloud”. These three elements form the crux of the structure's architectural form making.
Unlike many other museum designs that have small, unassuming lobbies which open to to dramatic gallery spaces, the Akron Art Museum does the exact opposite. The lobby is a spectacular towering space with natural lighting and bold concrete forms. In contrast, the gallery spaces themselves are simple windowless boxes, with little of the theater present in the entry space. While the gallery space may be architecturally disappointing, it fulfills its essential function by providing an attractive, if bland, space to highlight artwork.
A regional city in the Midwest seems like an improbable place for a contemporary museum addition by a famous international architecture firm. The work itself is a rather modestly sized structure that breaks dramatically from the body of structures surrounding it.
Rather than executing projects in established traditional locations like Chicago or other large cities, what are the benefits of architecturally significant design projects in smaller markets?
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