Printer Friendly

Container art: Shigeru Ban's inventive yet frugal Nomadic Museum berths on the Santa Monica beachfront.

For the past 14 years, Gregory Colbert has been filming the interaction of animals and humans around the world, creating images of great beauty. In 2002, he mounted an exhibition, Ashes and Snow, in the Corderia of the Venice Arsenale, and invited Shigeru Ban to design a prefabricated gallery in which this show could be displayed in varied locations. Naturalist and architect shared a concern to make the building environmentally sensitive, and for Ban it was a challenge to recycle commonplace materials on a heroic scale. Ever since he first employed discarded paper tubes for the installation of an Alvar Aalto exhibition, he has used them in an increasingly sophisticated way--in a post-earthquake church in Kobe (recently re-erected in Taiwan, AR December 1996), a canopy over the courtyard of MoMA (AR September 2000) and the Japanese pavilion at Expo 2000 in Hanover with Buro Happold (AR September 2000).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For the Nomadic Museum, Ban specified walls of used shipping containers (which can be rented in every major city), supporting a roof frame and tensile PVC membrane braced by trusses atop two colonnades. The 152 long and short containers are stacked four-high and attached at the corners with twist-lock connectors to form a chequerboard of solid and void. The spaces between are filled with a diagonal membrane providing the same protection from wind and rain as the roof. For the columns, two 5m-long, 750mm diameter Sonotubes (used for pouring concrete pillars) are bolted together, and smaller tubes are joined to form trusses that read as pediments at either end. The reception area and shops are also made of paper tubes and honeycomb panels. This inner structure, along with lighting and wood-slat walkways, can be quickly disassembled, packed, and shipped to the next location in eight containers.

At the museum's New York debut last spring, the walls extended 200m along a West Side pier, and the linear, colonnaded interior recalled Venice's Corderia. For the second presentation, by Santa Monica pier, southern California, Colbert wanted to expand the interior to house additional exhibits and avert congestion in front of the main projection screen. Ban proposed a V-plan in which the linear gallery would be folded to enclose a wedge-shaped projection area. This was rejected by the local authorities because it would have occupied too large a footprint and impeded public access to the beach. Instead, the two halves flank a broad concourse with a butterfly roof.

To expedite and execute construction, Ban teamed up with the Santa Monica office of the large international firm Gensler. But there were other issues to resolve. Santa Monica, which was hard hit by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, has a tough seismic code and requires that any structure that is intended to remain for more than three months should conform to the requirements for permanent buildings. Because the pier parking lot is built on sand, the containers had to be supported on chance anchors--200mm pipe columns drilled 9m into the ground. That underpinning also kept the structure level on a gently sloping site. Aluminium extrusions with expandable joints replaced the heavy steel roof frame used in New York. These structural enhancements were worked out with Arup in two months, drawings and permits were fast-tracked, and site preparation and assembly took only ten weeks.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Shipping containers are impressive in their natural habitat, stacked high on a quayside, and they are equally satisfying when used artfully as building blocks, combining strength and implied lightness. As with the sculptures of Donald Judd, each red steel box is superficially similar, yet subtly different from the rest in its labelling and patina. Sun and interior lighting bring out the texture and the scarring from hard use. The interior, with its dimly-lit nave and aisles, and light-washed columns, has the majesty of a great cathedral at evensong. From the dark void emerge still and moving sepia-toned images of Colbert's peaceable kingdom, an idealised world of picturesque natives cavorting with wild beasts. The languorous movements of cheetahs, whales and people seem choreographed to the New Age score. Seen on an Imax screen, these images would dazzle, but the grandeur and chiaroscuro of the architecture diminish their impact, while arousing aesthetic expectations the pictures are hard pressed to meet.

'I want the building to enhance the emotional charge of this interplay of man and nature,' says project manager John Picard. 'The museum should be performance-based and not just shelter, incorporating new technologies for spot cooling and generating power.' A solar cloth developed by Siemens may be used for future roof membranes--though it is currently ten times the cost of PVC--and employed in conjunction with a fuel cell. 'And yet,' Picard insists, 'the museum has to stay simple. You can measure the efficiency of packing up and moving by the number of containers you need, like the number of bags you take to the airport'.

The Nomadic Museum is expected to travel to Tokyo and Beijing, Abu Dhabi and Europe. In all these varied climates, the basic building blocks are unlikely to change, and, like Ban's inventive shelters for victims of natural disaster, they demonstrate the architect's commitment to the art of frugality.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
COPYRIGHT 2006 EMAP Architecture
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Webb, Michael
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4E
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:879
Previous Article:Memory and struggle: an apartheid museum that celebrates the ordinary is South Africa's latest attempt to come to terms with its past.
Next Article:Diplomatic relations: a new embassy complex in Addis Ababa is an imaginative response to local conditions.
Topics:


Related Articles
LATTICE VAULT.
NAKED HOUSE.
The Nomadic Museum.
Tradition stood on end: sheathed by glass shutters, this house makes the most of a tight urban site.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters