Explaining their approach, the architects write that “the Guggenheim has become, in a sense, a victim of its own success due to an over-saturation of human movement in a singular space. Our proposal aims to accomplish the seemingly incompatible: to restore a museum environment conducive to experiencing art and to maximize and heighten other experiences brought about by the iconic status of the museum itself.”
The specific strategy here is “to trap, i.e., to force a pause. This programmatic component was not considered by Wright, who envisioned a space defined by tireless motion.”
The resulting project is a gigantic membrane stretched throughout the interior, supplying “180 saddle-like seats along the entire ramp for pausing and viewing the rotunda.”
These seats protrude into the void with access ladders arranged in between the floor and the ceiling over the guardrails. Each of the 90 access ladders holds two cantilevering seats, which are angled gradually as they ascend to allow a view of the central area at ground level that functions almost like a stage—as though the rotunda were a new hybrid of opera house and arena. The 180 protrusions over the void are draped with a single, soft and translucent membrane that functions as a safety net.
There is no mention of a user weight-limit.
The architects continue, writing that “the pop-out pods, each approximately 60 cm deep, contain seats,” and “each pod has five openings for the head and limbs, which make the membrane”—and I love this metaphor—”much like a garment that can be worn collectively by 180 people.”
Imagining a piece of clothing so huge you mistake for a building is an awesome change in both scale and context; you would go inside by putting the building on, slipping in one arm at a time.
Of course, this also raises the possibility of tailoring clothing specifically to function only within certain very specific architectural structures: nylon tights that only make sense to wear when seated in one of Cho’s “pop-out pods,” or sweaters that allow you to experience the spatial extravagance of luxury elevators at a new W Hotel in London. You and some friends zip yourselves up into the wall, forming a new private room that would otherwise not be there.
But Cho saves the best analogy for last: once the overflowing crowds of art-drunk tourists come to fill the “pop-out pods,” it “as if they were performing as a part of a living Baroque ceiling sculpture.”
I had the pleasure of seeing Cho present this project in person at a lecture he gave back in October at Columbia University; this was the project with which he kicked-off the evening, and it set a fantastically giddy tone for the rest of Mass Studies’ work.