In many instances, architecture can have a profound effect on the way we experience spaces, whether commercial or private. In the case of museums, the architectural program plays an integral role in the overall display and reception of the artwork it holds. For many, museums evoke a stark, white-walled box that focuses more on the art it contains, rather than the design of the building. This can be a good thing, of course, if the structure holds paintings meant to be hung on the wall. A more difficult situation presents itself in the form of sculpture and the marble ruins of Athens, Greece.
As recent as 2009, a new museum opened in Athens that stands as a testament to the cultural power of ancient Greek and modern day architecture. Architect Bernard Tschumi tackled the difficult project with a precise clarity reminiscent of Greek architecture. The building stands at the foot of the Acropolis in the shadow of the Parthenon, possibly the most influential building in Western civilization. To add to the pressure, the museum was to house some on the most impressive sculptures in Greek history and stand, not on the ground, but on the ancient ruins themselves!
The entrance to the building (pictured below) is a walkway with glass floors; beneath are archeological excavations of the Ancient World spanning over 43,000 square feet.
The building is split into three layers. The top floor is the Parthenon Gallery, whose glass-enclosed rectangular layout is rotated 23 degrees from the rest of the building to align perfectly with the Parthenon. While visitors marvel at the original marble statuary inside the building, the view of the ancient monument is a constant parallel. For an art lover, this concept display is incredibly powerful.
My trip to the museum began on a dry, hot day in May when I visited Greece during my trip abroad. As an avid museum goer, I had been to my share of art museums. The Met and MoMa in New York, the Art Institute in Chicago, the Uffizi in Florence. It is truly a unique experience to see art from all around the world housed in a singular building. It was safe to say my expectations were high.
As I approached the building, I was at first shocked at the extreme contemporary feel.
It was juxtaposed so abruptly with the ancient ruins all around us. As the architect undoubtedly intended, it struck me as an important statement of continuance. The fact that ancient architecture could and does have such strong influence over modern, contemporary buildings, shows the evolving nature of architecture-- one structure building from the last.
As I walked up to the top floor, with the view of the Parthenon in the distance, and the actual marble pieces from the pediments in front of me, I was truly blown away by the experience. The structural program made all the difference in the way I interacted within the space. I felt as if I was partaking in a dialogue with the statues in front of me, and the ancient Acropolis behind me. Past and present came together in a way that no other museum had given me before.
Below is a picture taken during my visit to the museum in 2010. As a viewer, I felt the interaction between the interior space, containing ancient statues, and the exterior space, the Acropolis, which created an incredibly unique museum experience.
Researched and written by Taylor Maatman
Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM
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