Wishing there were more “A+D” museums like the one in Los AngelesShare
Los Angeles‘ Architecture and Design Museum - A+D - has been around since 2001, but its upcoming move into new (for them), permanent digs makes now a good time to wish that more cities had exhibition spaces solely devoted to architecture and design.
Like New York City’s near-legendary Storefront for Art and Architecture, A+D is a venue for architectural experimentation, exposition, and exhibition, having hosted events as wide-ranging as After the Flood, which imagined a post-Katrina New Orleans, and a recent retrospective on the work of Ray Kappe, one of Southern California’s most influential modernist architects.
In large measure, A+D’s focus effectiveness as a provocateur - getting the public to approach built environments differently and encouraging designers to approach their work as a continual process of revelation - is due to its willingness to reach far (geographically) and wide (thematically) for its exhibitions. And I suspect that once it is comfortably ensconced on Museum Row, across from LACMA and next door to the Petersen Automotive Museum, A+D’s impact on the profession will grow correspondingly.
As a general matter, this is an excellent development; there are way too few organizations that wholly devote their exhibitions to architecture, urban planning, and the like. While there are indeed museums with architecture departments (most prominently, MoMA’s) and even a few foundations that promote the architectural history of a particular city (e.g., the Chicago Architecture Foundation), there are very few organizations that can support sustained dialogues about the future of architecture and its role in society’s growth (or culpability for its demise, depending on your POV).
Oddly however, the basis for A+D’s significance - its status as an intellectual petri dish for architecture and its role in society’s development - supplies the needed rationale for other cities to create their own A+D institutions. How so? Well, architecture exhibitions are unique from other artistic shows in that they are often done with the intent to foster new ways of using architecture and design to accomplish a given task - in effect, such exhibitions are often means for accomplishing something in the “real world”, not ends unto themselves. (A+D’s After the Flood exhibition is a perfect example of this.)
But for this recurring theme - experimentation via exhibition - to be as effective as possible, exhibitors must be willing to fail; they must be willing to push boundaries in search of innovation despite the possibility of reaching a dead end. Assuming as much, it is easy to see how the relative paucity of opportunities for exhibition might sub-consciously inhibit the curiosity of architects working on exhibitions; the competition for having a show at Storefront - to say nothing of MoMA - is fierce, and its conceivable that applicants consequently pay more attention to how their ideas appear on the wall than might potentially work in the real world.
In contrast, if bands of architects in Minneapolis, Denver, or Houston chose to rent empty storefronts - for the sole purpose of hosting such exhibitions - then I suspect that the increasing quantity of shows would produce a richer body of ideas (and certainly cultivate more locally-relevant debate than can happen with shows concentrated in just three or four cities). The average quality of the shows might be less than they currently are, but that shouldn’t be a problem if architecture exhibitions are truly means to another end.
Of course, A+D is (or aims to be) much more than an empty storefront, waiting for poster boards and big ideas; but hopefully, as it’s mission spreads, other architects in other cities will consider replicating what A+D does best: using experimentation to nudge the profession forward.
Image courtesy of omaromar.