Thursday, April 17, 2014

The New York Guggenheim: A triumph of artistic will and vision

When the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opened in October 1959, its architect Frank Lloyd Wright had passed away six months prior, and founder Solomon Guggenheim had reposed for ten years. Still, the building, which took 16 years to complete, remains as much a design statement as a symbol of victory against overwhelming odds despite the demise of its two main proponents.

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When Guggenheim and his art advisor Hilla Rebay commissioned Wright to design a building for their growing abstract art collection, Wright’s strong opposition to New York as site led to countless heated debates on location. In the end, Guggenheim’s wishes prevailed, and Wright settled on the Fifth Avenue between 88th and 89th Streets, flanked by the serenity of Central Park’s rolling greens.

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Because Wright constantly sought to express the fluidity of nature in his work, he conjured plans for the Guggenheim Museum as an inverted ziggurat of reinforced concrete, the inside an atrium topped by a glass dome, surrounded by a ramp that uncoils six stories upwards like a nautilus shell.

Though Wright devised the spiral so that the art could be viewed in a flowing, continuous manner, many artists picketed this plan during construction, arguing that the concavity of the walls made standard displays difficult, and that the superfluous design would compete with the art being displayed.

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Furthermore, Manhattan’s building code administrators slung structural prohibitions in the project’s direction, requiring Wright to resize the glass dome crowning his ziggurat just to appease the city council.

Despite the roadblocks, Wright and Guggenheim ploughed through and defended their vision to the very end. Today, New York’s Guggenheim stands beautiful and proud, and both Wright’s and Guggenheim’s legacies continue to inspire.  

Contractor and businessman Peter Forchetti is an avid fan of architecture in New York. Give the history of New york buildings a quick scan by visiting this Facebook page.