Oculus - Fall 2014 - (Page 41)
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.
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
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Fall 2014
Letter From the President
Letter From the Editor
Center for Architecture
Opener: Making Culture, Making Place
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
Power to the People
Subterranean Subtexts at the National 9/11 Memorial Museum
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Fall 2014