The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston by Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Diller Scofidio + Renfro is one of those architecture firms that is about tapping into human drama and emotion through their sculptural buildings. Back in 1995, when Diller and Scofidio were just young Cooper Union professors trying to make their way in an academic/artistic world, it looked like their career was going to go the way of Zaha Hadid. That is, their works would remain on paper, mostly. Fast forward to 2007, and several major commissions have emerged. And, none of the drama has been traded in for building officials or clients concerns (or at least it’s not apparent).
Take the ICA, a new contemporary museum in Boston, for instance. On a visceral, primal level, there are two elements that are moving for me in this building. First, the profile of the building is mind blowing. It’s a simple solid box sitting on a glass box. The form is reminiscent of Rem Koolhaas’ House in Bordeaux, which was also a solid box cantilevering over a glass box. The difference is the scale on the ICA is so much larger. The cantilever make me, at least, feel unsafe. But at the same time, here I am in a cathedral held up by nothing. There is no feeling like it. It’s a contemporary expression because it’s a design that could only be built within the last ten years due to the available technology.
The second architectural expression that I find profound is a simple lecture hall that sits in the middle of the building. The room slopes down to where the lecturer stands at the bottom of the room. The lecturer is framed by a massive glass window that frames the Boston Harbor behind. The view is not a typical view, though. Instead of seeing a vista of the harbor or the skyline, the room offers the backdrop of water as a simple deep blue curtain beyond the lecturer. Again, it’s a room that is a brand new paradigm in architecture, and time will tell if this is a successful way to structure space.