Exhibition Design, Interview with Patrik Schumacher
Niklas Singstedt for Future Exhibitions No.2, Spatial Encounters
London, March 2010
In your manifesto for parametricism you reject many of the modernistic tools and its very strict shapes. How are your ideas of parametricism applied to exhibition spaces?
Patrik Schumacher: We are also exhibition designers, as you know, and we are very interested in the idea of space in relation to knowledge structures, or information structures. Parametericism can be applied here in a similar way as it is applied to the ordering of social institutions. One might expect contemporary exhibitions to pursue an increased level of narrative complexity implying the intensification of relations between the content elements of the exhibition. Contemporary exhibition strategies require ordering strategies over and above the classical or modern paradigm of simple linear (e.g. chronological) sequences or simple orders of classification and sub classification. Instead parametricism suggests the introduction of gradients and of simultaneous interpenetrating orders of reference with overlapping domains. Intensive networks of cross-reference can be spatialized and articulated. Such tropes and features imply a new organisational and articulatory repertoire for the spatialization of complex, contemporary information structures. The resultant exhibitions are more layered and able to set up more alignments and cross-references between the elements of the exhibition. We’ve done that, we’ve executed such exhibitions.
Could you tell me how you developed the exhibition spaces in the maxxi museum, what where the ambitions and which parameters and conditions did you work with?
Patrik Schumacher: First of all, there is no singular decomposition of the museum into a fixed number of galleries. Instead there is a potential for an absolute continuum, a continuous movement around the museum through different zones that flow and blend into each other. Each gallery is moving through curved trajectories that continuously shift the perceived shape of the gallery. The movement never stops. The space continues ad infinitum. There is never a moment where you a thre given the totality of a closed gallery space. The space continues around the bend. It always slips out of view, and with each step more area is revealed and other areas slip out of view (if not out of awareness). This drifting (continuously shifting) space gives a lot of scope to the curators to set partitions or to emphasize some connections while severing others. There are two moments of vertical connections that deliver a sense of simultaneity with deep vistas crossing the multiple levels, two focal points or nodes where many elements come together in a deep, layered, and multidirectional simulteneity. From these intense points of condensation the trajectories move on to more quiet areas. However, these areas are never closed, they are always drifting forward. That’s the idea.
Could you describe your collaboration with the staff and the curators in the maxxi project, while developing the museum?
Patrik Schumacher: In the case of the museum we are now collaborating and developing the first show. However, the key concept of the museum itself was competition based. It was our creation, our position concerning the pertinent idea of what shape a museum for the art and architecture of the 21st century could take. We formulated our position as a competition entry, and this competition was won, so that our basic basic concept was established through the competition result. Our project thus had the authority of a winning scheme that had convinced an international jury.
The Maxxi muesum in rome was a competition you won quiet som time ago now, did you adjust any of your initial ideas due to the fact that time has passed?
Patrik Schumacher: No, the central concept has been fully maintained, all the way through. The building has been executed with a high degree of faithfulness to the competition design. The pertinence and foresight of the initial scheme was thus validated by its survival and final construction. Also, in terms of the values that persist in our own oeuvre the design remains a valid contribution to contemporary avant-garde architecture even 10 years after its inception. We have since worked on the same themes, with the similar agendas of creating a richly variegated field-space, trying to achieve the intensification of relations both within the building and with respect to the integration of the building with its surroundings. The values and ambitions of parametericism have been stable. The concept of parametricism as new global style for architecture and urbanism is meant both prospectively and retrospectively. We can already speak of a mature avant-garde style. It certainly covers MAXXI and the whole era of the last ten years of our work.
You been working alot with museums the last decade of which some have been built and some still are in project phase. Do you work with them in a similar way or are you allways trying to invent something new, and try new ideas?
Patrik Schumacher: We are not going to revert back to the classical or modern formulae, e.g. the modernist formula of segregating discreet zones. Parametricism offer a rich repertoire, with many different morphologies, and different ways to continue the notion of parametrically differentiated fields. Our science museum in Phaeno in Wolfsburg is an example. It uses a morphology that is very different from the morphology of MAXXI. The Phaeno creates a single, open space which works across three levels. There is one primary level with a lower and upper mezzanine, articulated through the device of craters, like a moonscape. Cones carry the whole plate, and act as multiple points of entry. So it’s quiet a different morphology not based on these linear trajectories and their bundling like in MAXXI, but it is instead based on a kind of continuous, single surface which has these involutions, convex or concave involutions. However, despite their very different morphologies both projects - MAXXI and Phaeno - are operating within the same paradigm. They are both instances of parametricism. The Cincinnati contemporary arts centre works with a cluster of differently sized and proportioned gallery spaces. These spaces are more discreet than the spaces of MAXXI and Phaeno, but they all feed in and out of a complex vertical circulation and exhibition space which is an extended lobby that is gradually becoming an exhibition zone as well. Thus with respect to the main navigation space of the museum there is the same kind of overall sensibility in terms of organisational principles as in MAXXI and Phaeno. We also designed a number of other, smaller museums, and they all test the hypothesis of a new museum experience that feels proper to contemporary cultural life.
Museums of today have become more than just a place for exhibitions, it has turned out to be a place for meeting up with friends, eating and drinking, shopping etc. An important node in the city. Do you think that we will see more of that in the future or in which direction will the museums and exhibition spaces develope?
Patrik Schumacher: Yes definitely, we don’t want to think of these museums as tourist destinations. They should function as platforms of advanced cultural and professional communication. The ability to do this has a lot to do with the programming. Contemporary museums stage a lot of changing exhibitions, offer a lot of educational events, lectures and so on, and thus offer opportunities for information exchange. Our designs always try to cater for this. The local community should utilize the museum as a hub of cultural and professional communication. These museums are engines for the development of a culture industry including art related professional industries like advertising, web design, fashion, filmmakers, designers, architects etc. All these professions relate back to art as a platform of experimentation. And the parametricist museum is supposed to be a productive, high performance platform of elite communication. I am not talking about privileges for the wealthy but about an advanced level of sophisticated communication for anybody who wants to enhance his/her cultural connectedness to upgrade the relevancy of their professional pursuits. Each ambitious industrial-economic hub today needs such museums as institutional devices to develop a cross-professional symbiosis in their city. It’s more of a device for work related communication than for mere recreation.
Do you think that the activities and the exhibitions are ready to leave, to step outside the museums and its enclosed spaces in a greater way?
Patrik Schumacher: In the Rome museum we did think of a system of space making, with intersecting walls and overflying ribs that is able to create both interior and exterior spaces. The project creates of campus with a lot of porosity from exterior to interior spaces. It is an urban project as much as an architectural project. Its geometry is affiliated to the surrounding urban fabric and its primary alignments recognise the different urban geometries meeting in the site of the musem campus. All parametricist projects are inherently urban, very much concerned with their embeddness and resonance within a given urban texture.