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Parrish Art Museum
Water Mill, New York, USA
Project 2005-2008

The museum board’s decision was clear, the new Parrish Museum was not to take the form of an extension of the existing building of 1897, but was to be designed as a new complex on a new and undeveloped site. This seemed to make the task all the more interesting for us, because it meant we could operate freely without having to take any existing structures into account. On the other hand, it is often the case that having to respect an existing structure actually sets the starting point for an architectural design. In this regard, the freedom of building from scratch is often a real challenge, rather than a constraint, for architects. Horror vacui – what is to be done with so much freedom? Now, although the undeveloped site on the outskirts of Southampton does offer just that kind of freedom, the more intensely we studied the history and collection of the Parrish Museum, the more strongly we tended towards the idea of a small-scale pavilion complex. Other architectural typologies soon began to look less promising.

Pavilion complex
The pavilion is actually the ideal museum type. Even in the late 1970s, Rémy Zaugg enthused about the advantages of the single exhibition space, which he later described in his theoretical treatise “Das Museum, das ich mir erträume” [The museum I dream of]. Apart from the perceptual qualities Zaugg attributes to such fragmented sequences of spaces, we found other factors that spoke in favour of individual units rather than a single building: the setting, the urban and natural features, as well other aspects connected with the history of East End’s artistic community. In terms of architectural typology, the individual units of the pavilion complex relate to the small-scale structure of Southampton with its simple forms such as the barns and other farm buildings often used by artists as studios. The landscape and the unusual light of Long Island were major reasons for the formation of the artists’ community in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Because of this, it not only seemed logical to make an architectural and urban reference to the working conditions of the artists themselves, but it also seemed potentially highly interesting from a curatorial point of view. The main focus of the Parrish collection is on artists who have lived and worked on Long Island, such as Chuck Close, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Bloom and Robert Gober still do. The museum identified four seminal artists, each of whose work will serve as a major focal point within the narrative of East End art from the 19th century to the present: William Merritt Chase, Fairfield Porter, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein. This selection of artists gave us the idea to develop the concept of Anchor Spaces. These Anchor Spaces are both architectural and curatorial highlights, defining the museum spatially and intellectually and providing an artificial topography for the orientation and enjoyment of visitors.

Anchor Spaces
The first time we specifically developed an Anchor Space of this kind was when we were commissioned by the MoMA in New York for the 2006 Artist’s Choice project. After that, we also developed specific variations on this concept for the Espacio Goya (2005/06) and the Miami Art Museum (2006/07). In all these projects, the Anchor Spaces proved to be a very fruitful strategy in terms of thinking “out of the box” and going beyond the usual architectural conventions to create a museum complex in dialogue with the curators and the artists. With respect to the Parrish, the Anchor Galleries are the reconstruction of the basic architectural elements of the studios of William Merritt Chase, Fairfield Porter, Willem de Kooning and Roy Lichtenstein. However, they are not reconstructions in a simulated, Disneyworld sense, nor are they frozen in time like the Brancusi studio outside the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Instead, they emulate the artists’ studio spaces in terms of their proportions, dimensions and specific natural light conditions. While these studios will be used initially to present the works of the respective artists and the documentation pertaining to them, they will also be used as exhibition spaces for other purposes, thereby providing the curators with an interesting alternative to the White Cube.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2007
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