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Contemporary Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, USA

Part 2 Project 2009
Nikhil Dhumma
University of Huddersfield UK
The proposal for a Contemporary Art Museum for Portland aims to anchor the artistic community of a former warehouse district of the city and cater for the region’s thriving art scene through the creation of a bespoke space to accommodate art in a variety of atmospheres.

The one and a half block site for the scheme is situated at a critical junction of the urban fabric, along a major route through the city, at the end of a popular public park, and between two differing neighbourhoods. The museum looks to stitch together these disparate elements, whilst responding to the city grid and the wider urban context.

The concept for the design is rooted in the geology of the area, and takes the form of an extruded cube of igneous rock that sits within the city grid. The use of only part of the available site allows the return of a former surface car park to the public domain and the extension of the park. From the cube, internal spaces are carved out, and movement through the building occurs as a spiral, in both upward and downward directions. In this way, the museum exudes a feeling of solidity and 'permanence', in juxtaposition to its 'temporary' contents. Its character is intended to be maternal - protective, harbouring, sheltering...

The design is driven by careful consideration of key strategies. Structural, environmental and sustainable goals were identified early in the design process to root the museum in its local context and it is these, in conjunction with a restrained use of materials that begin to mould an identity for the museum.

The notion of the city grid is also carried through to the arrangement of the internal spaces, and a series of gallery types were considered in order to fulfil the museum’s curatorial aims. These different types present an innovative strategy to both display and develop the museum’s growing collection as well as present temporary exhibitions. Different modes of display are arranged in a non-linear sequence, allowing the visitor to follow multiple directions through the galleries and across different floors, punctuated by specific experiences.

The great opportunity offered by the new museum is to integrate the experience of art into the entire building, including the roof terrace, basement and newly created public square. By presenting a mixture of differentiated exhibition spaces, as opposed to a traditional sequence of white rooms, the museum proposes a new model of collecting, curating and experiencing art.

Nikhil Dhumma

The project typology, brief, and location are all self selected by the student with guidance from the school, of which the Design Thesis is the final component of the year’s academic endeavours including the Dissertation and Preliminary Studies modules both of which prepare the student philosophically and contextually for the design project.

The Contemporary Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, is a highly developed and literate sophisticated synthesis, culturally and contextually relevant, spatially revelatory, and tectonically mature.

Responding to the ubiquitous American city grid with a strong urban delineation of boundary defining a solid cubic mass in which to model space, and releasing an opposing piazza in which to excavate linking under-croft spaces providing both prelude and counterplay.

A spiralling architectural promenade provides an unravelling and revelatory experience, transforming the container of art to become a volumetric spatial interplay and magic box in which a series of diverse spaces are offered to curate contemporary art within; and the city is selectively seen as a series of glimpse views and vistas re-presenting the everyday ordinary as extraordinary, culminating in the climatic moment where from high within the gallery, the viewer turns looking back upon the promenade visually connecting the volumetric spatial interplay and seeing the artworks as one cohesive collection.

The detailed response to tectonics and materiality manipulates the fabric of the building to reveal depth and texture and secrete light into the volumes, whilst heightening the precious refinement of the building as container by subtly separating it from the boundary with a clean line of pavement clerestorey glazing. The apparent solidity and substance of the container raises expectations of the preciousness of the artefacts contained.

The resultant architectural response acknowledges the influence of the New York Guggenheim by Frank Lloyd Wright, Walsall Art Gallery by Caruso St.John 1999, Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Centre by Zaha Hadid 2003, Kolumba Art Museum Cologne by Peter Zumthor 2007, and the proposed Tate Modern 2 extension by Herzog & de Meuron.

Mr Gerard Bareham
Mr Derrie O'Sullivan
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