In which I write a pretentious architectural review of MALBA


I am not an architect. I have never studied architecture. (Although I snogged an architect once, which surely gives me some credentials.) This post might come off quite badly, and I might look like a pretentious twerp because of it, but I’m going to persevere. Not because I think I’m better than I am, but because I think that good architecture should speak to everyone, not just the intellectually informed or highly-educated.

I am going to write a bit of an architectural review of MALBA, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. The building was designed by AFT Architects, an Argentinian firm that Wikipedia claims is “renowned”, although I would argue that point. It houses a collection of modern work by artists across South America, which is a great idea. The collection itself is nice, though a bit small, but I can certainly appreciate the goals of the organization.

What I have mixed feelings about is the building.

The exterior is nice, with sharp lines and white marble. It reminds me of a lot of "modern architecture", and I wonder how well it will age. The building opened in 2001, and already the white is starting to look a bit dingy.

The exterior is nice, with sharp lines and white marble. It reminds me of a lot of “modern architecture”, and I wonder how well it will age. The building opened in 2001, and already the white is starting to look a bit dingy. The angular lines are nice, and I love how the squares and rectangles intersect. The glass square seems stuck onto the side as an afterthought, but once you enter the space you can see there is a connection to the main atrium. If you look at the glass square, you can see that there are lines on it, that get longer the closer the ground. In my opinion, this is an attempt to give the glass movement – like raindrops, but instead it just looks a bit kooky.

This is the famous view of the interior atrium. Almost all the publicity shots using a variation of this, looking down through three storeys onto two escalators. The escalators feel really dark and heavy, like black strips of coal, in the light and bright space. I would have loved to see some more creative design for the escalators - something that matches the surroundings.

This is the famous view of the interior atrium. Almost all the publicity shots using a variation of this, looking down through three storeys onto two escalators. The escalators feel really dark and heavy, like black strips of coal, in the light and bright space. I would have loved to see some more creative design for the escalators – something that matches the surroundings.

This is taken from the top of the escalators, looking back at the vantage point from which the previous photo was taken. At first I couldn't understand what that spaghetti-like substance was....

This is taken from the top of the escalators, looking back at the vantage point from which the previous photo was taken. At first I couldn’t understand what that spaghetti-like substance was….

But then I walked down the corridor and saw this. I absolutely LOVE this. It's amazing. The slats of the bench are rebelling against their stated purpose, and escaping over the edge of the wall.... growing out of control.... if I could have this in my house, I would. In a heartbeat.  And yet, I have to ask, is this appropriate for the space? It's very permanent, and it really over-rides any other use of the atrium. They can never change or add new art to the main hall, because this bench takes up all the dramatic impact. I would prefer if they would switch it up every few months - give people reasons to come back.

But then I walked down the corridor and saw this. I absolutely LOVE this. It’s amazing. The slats of the bench are rebelling against their stated purpose, and escaping over the edge of the wall…. growing out of control…. if I could have this in my house, I would. In a heartbeat. And yet, I have to ask, is this appropriate for the space? It’s very permanent, and it really over-rides any other use of the atrium. They can never change or add new art to the main hall, because this bench takes up all the dramatic impact. I would prefer if they would switch it up every few months – give people reasons to come back.

This is a good shot of the main atrium. And it's a good illustration of what I don't like about the design. The geometric patterns are not cohesive. There are squares AND rectangles AND columns AND triangles, AND circles, and none of them seem to relate to the others. It would have been so easy to make the triangles on the ceiling match the triangles on the window, but they don't. OR to make the squares in the elevator bracing match the squares along the balcony, but they don't. Or to make the columns of the elevator bracings match the columns along the balcony, but they don't. I get the whole geometric thing, I really do, and I love it when it's done cleanly, but this feels a bit too jam-packed to be called minimalism.

This is a good shot of the main atrium. And it’s a good illustration of what I don’t like about the design. The geometric patterns are not cohesive. There are squares AND rectangles AND columns AND triangles, AND diamonds, AND circles, and none of them seem to relate to the others. It would have been so easy to make the triangles on the ceiling match the triangles on the window, but they don’t. OR to make the squares in the elevator bracing match the squares along the balcony, but they don’t. Or to make the columns of the elevator bracings match the columns along the balcony, but they don’t. I get the whole geometric thing, I really do, and I love it when it’s done cleanly, but this feels a bit too jam-packed to be called minimalism.

This is an odd picture, I know, but it clearly illustrates the other main problem I have with MALBA. The textural palette is all over the place!

This is an odd picture, I know, but it clearly illustrates the other main problem I have with MALBA. The textural palette is all over the place! Look at the wide silver/grey panel in the middle of the pic. It’s a different metal than the thin silver right next to it, which is also a different silver from the panel above the stairs. The security stand on the far right is yet another, shiny silver.  Or, look at the stairs themselves – an off-white marble. But wait, the wall is an off-white also, but its’ a DIFFERENT off-white! The pillar is painted yet another white, and the doorframe, which you can just see on the left of the pic (yes, it’s outlined in yet another silver), is completely smudged with finger prints, because there is no handle. Not only is it off-white, it’s a dirty off-white, and it doesn’t match any of the other off-whites. That kind of palette mixing just looks sloppy, at least in my opinion.

Here is a few looking up. You can see the sunken gallery below, which is nice, but there is an odd, dark brown door at the bottom. Nowhere else in the museum are there brown doors. I saw white doors, glass doors, silver doors, but this was the only brown one. Bizarre.

Here is a few looking up. You can see the sunken gallery below, which is nice, but there is an odd, dark brown door at the bottom. Nowhere else in the museum are there brown doors. I saw white doors, glass doors, silver doors, but this was the only brown one. Bizarre. Oh wait, and here is yet another kind of marble – more beige than off-white.

Okay. Now it's time to say some nice things. I quite liked the interior gallery spaces. The movement around the pieces were well-planned, the lighting was nice, the color schemes were subtle and complimentary to the art.

Okay. Now it’s time to say some nice things. I quite liked the interior gallery spaces. The movement around the pieces were well-planned, the lighting was nice (although in this pic it looks harsher than it did in real-life), the color schemes were subtle and complimentary to the art.

Crazy Brother of Theo.

This pic has nothing to do with faux-architectural review, but we couldn’t resist snapping a shot. The piece is by Romulo Maccio, an Argentinian painter, and was completed in 1963. The title?  “Aquel hermano loco de Theo” (That Crazy Brother of Theo).

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Posted on 14/06/2013, in travel, Travel to South America and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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