Oculus - Fall 2014 - (Page 41)

8-year watch Growing in stages along the Grand Concourse, the Bronx Museum of the Arts acquired a bold architectural presence in 2006 B Y J O H N M O R R I S DI XO N , FA IA Culture and the City ©John Morris Dixon oo few New Yorkers are familiar with the relatively modest but ambitious arts museum in the heart of the Bronx. Founded in 1971, it was initially housed in the Bronx County Courthouse. In 1982 the fledgling institution moved into a former synagogue at a prominent street corner along the borough's broadest thoroughfare, the Grand Concourse. When the synagogue building was renovated in 1988 by Castro-Blanco Piscioneri & Associates, the worship spaces and auxiliary rooms proved reasonably adaptable to galleries, offices, and classrooms. A two-story, glassenclosed lobby at the street corner established a public image for the museum, but the scale of the building remained small for its setting among the mid- to high-rise apartment buildings that line the Concourse. When the opportunity arose to expand the museum on an adjoining Concourse-front site, the museum commissioned the widely known Miamibased firm of Arquitectonica to provide additional space along with a bolder public presence. And, given the limits of this $19-million undertaking, Arquitectonica fulfilled that mission well. The addition, three high-ceilinged stories rising 45 feet, is considerably taller than the converted synagogue. The height of its façade is further emphasized by a distinctive configuration of vertical folds, which Arquitectonica Partner Bernardo Fort-Brescia, FAIA, compares to giant louvers. Windows placed in the folds to minimize direct sun penetration allow glimpses of street life from the lobby, without full exposure, and offer pedestrians inward views without a show-window effect. Twists in the folded surfaces as they rise - along with their sleek aluminum cladding - suggest the contemporary arts mission of the museum and enhance the building's individuality. Besides its lobby - ample but by no means grand - the Arquitectonica addition includes gallery space, a third-floor media lab, and a second-floor room suitable for meetings, lectures, and dinners. Most of the museum's gallery space remains essentially unaltered in the older structure, along with many of its back-of-the-house and education facilities. New York Times critic Nicholas Ouroussoff, reviewing the addition in 2006, cited its "pleated façade" and "refreshingly unpretentious interiors" as "a reminder of how architecture can have a profound public impact when its values are in the right place." The museum's executive director, Holly Block, praises the façade as "enticing," and reports that "people love the lobby and the galleries." The exhibition program under her direction is by no means cautious. "Beyond the Supersquare" (on view through January 11, 2015), exploring "the influence of Latin American and Caribbean Modernist architecture on contemporary art," more than meets Manhattan museum standards. The museum leadership is working on plans to improve its facilities and increase its community involvement. Museum Trustee Joan Krevlin, FAIA, recently announced its intention to upgrade the older street-corner structure as a community gallery, while adding rooftop gardens, a space for outdoor movies, and neighborhood garden plots. ©Norman McGrath T The Arquitectonica addition was designed as the first phase of a project that would have replaced the older building with new construction, possibly as a base for an apartment tower. If such an expansion were to be undertaken in the future, its architect would most likely be chosen under the provisions of the city's Design and Construction Excellence program. Arquitectonica might or might not have a chance. John Morris Dixon, FAIA, left the drafting board for journalism in 1960 and was editor of Progressive Architecture from 1972 to 1996. He continues to write for a number of publications, and he received AIANY's 2011 Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award for Excellence in Journalism. Fall 2014 Oculus 41

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Fall 2014

Letter From the President
Letter From the Editor
Center for Architecture
Fair Shake
Opener: Making Culture, Making Place
Exemplary Expansion
A Showcase for History and Heritage
Hanging Out With Art
Let’s Get Visible
The Play’s the Thing
More Than Meets the Eye in a New Brooklyn Park
Musicians’ Magnet
Power to the People
Branching Out
Subterranean Subtexts at the National 9/11 Memorial Museum
In Print
8-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Fall 2014

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