AD Classics: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum / Frank Lloyd Wright

Swelling out towards the city of Manhattan, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was the last major project designed and built by  between 1943 until it opened to the public in 1959, six months after his death, making it one of his longest works in creation along with one of his most popular projects. Completely contrasting the strict Manhattan city grid, the organic curves of the museum are a familiar landmark for both art lovers, visitors, and pedestrians alike.

More on Wright’s Guggenheim Museum after the break.

The exterior of the Guggenheim Museum is a stacked white cylinder of reinfored concrete swirling towards the sky. The museum’s dramatic curves of the exterior, however, had an even more stunning effect on the interior. Inside Wright proposed “one great space on a continuous floor,” and his concept was a success. Walking inside, a visitor’s first intake is a huge atrium, rising 92′ in height to an expansive glass dome. Along the sides of this atrium is a continuous ramp uncoiling upwards six stories for more than one-quarter of a mile, allowing for one floor to flow into another. The ramp also creates a procession in which a visitor experiences the art displayed along the walls as they climb upwards towards the sky.

© Scott Norsworthy

The design of the museum as one continuous floor with the levels of ramps overlooking the open atrium also allowed for the interaction of people on different levels, enhancing the design in section.

Section

Although the space within the building is undeniably majestic and the building itself monumental, it was not perfectly successful in terms of function. The curved walls of the interior were intended so that paintings had to be tilted backward, “as on the artist’s easel.” This was unsuccessful because the paintings were still very difficult to display because of the concavity of the walls, and because of this before its opening 21 artists signed a letter protesting about their display of work in such a space. Many critics also argue that the building competes with the art work that is intended to be displayed, a problem which Museum Director James Johnson Sweeney took seriously, stating, “This is the most spectacular museum interior architecturally in this country. But my job is to show off a magnificent collection to its fullest. Wright also had a problem with Manhattan’s building-code administrators who argued with him over structural issues, such as the glass dome that had to be reduced in size and redesigned to include concrete ribs that are extensions of the discreet structural pillars on the exterior walls.

© Flickr - Mazingerin

In 1992 the museum built an addition that was designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects that Wright had originally intended. The architects analyzed Wright’s original sketches and from his ideas they created a 10-story limestone tower that had flat walls that were more appropriate for the display of art.

Between 2005-2008 the Guggenheim Museum went under an exterior renovation where eleven coats of paint were removed from the original surface and revealed many cracks due to climatic reasons. This revelation led to extensive research in the testing of potential repair materials, as well as the restoration of the exterior.

© http://www.flickr.com/photos/32224170@N03/3352894744/

Despite the opinion of critics, there is no doubt that Wright’s design for the Guggenheim Museum provides a spatial freedom that is unique to his style. It took Wright 700 sketches and six sets of working drawings to turn his vision into an extraordinary sculpture of a building overlooking Central Park, that in the very least should be acknowledged as one of the most spatially beautiful International-style works of architecture.

Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
Location: ,
Project Year: 1943-1959
Photographs: Depending on the Photograph: On Flickr, Scott Norsworthy, mazingerin, dutchnatasjas, B. Tse, rpa2101, and archiplanet.org
References: http://www.TIME.com/ and Knight, Caroline. Frank Lloyd Wright. Parragon Publishing, 2005. Print.

This building is part of our Architecture City Guide: New York. Check all the other buildings on this guide right here.

Cite: Perez, Adelyn. "AD Classics: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum / Frank Lloyd Wright" 18 May 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 Apr 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=60392>

14 comments

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    Rather than “climb upwards toward the sky,” Wright actually intended that visitors would take the elevator to the top floor and cascade down the ramps to view the exhibits. This approach also left HIS art work (the Guggenheim atrium) as the last piece of art that the patrons experience before exiting.

    I’m unsure if the curators actually design their exhibitions in this fashion nor if the visitors visit from bottom-up or top-down. Nonetheless, the Guggenheim is a fantastic building no matter how you experience the space!

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      Once I visited, the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition was organised from bottom-up. Maybe nowadays it would be impossible to move those crowds up with the elevator. When this museum was built, much less people were visiting.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    The most astonishing fact to me is how badly FLW wanted the spiral center to be the driving force behind the museum. The exterior shape changed multiple times and went through 7 working drawings, but the central spiral remained largely unchanged. The beginning rectilinear facade is nothing like the current curving twirls. The idea of a single floor for the entire museum stayed true to the end.

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