Contingent Hinges: Milwaukee City Hall and The Sheldon Art Gallery
Spring 2013
Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Option Studio: The Studio Studio
Preston Scott Cohen, Instructor

“The architectural treatise and manifesto have disappeared. Today, we have architectural theory and criticism of architecture. But is it possible to call any contemporary building theoretical?“ -studio prompt, Preston Scott Cohen

Working backwards from the transformation of symmetrical ideal models into irregular urban configurations—as in the hotels particulier of Baroque Paris—can the interior contingencies of a plan be used to create tension absent circumferential constraints, in this case, as an addition to Philip Johnson’s rigidly contained Sheldon Art Gallery?

The project begins with the de-transformation of a tortured plan—in this case, Milwaukee City Hall (1881, H.C. Koch)—whose system of operations becomes a pedagogical framework for a translated operation on the Sheldon Art Museum (1961, Philip Johnson) in Omaha, Nebraska. Milwaukee City Hall's attenuated atrium may be a vestigial hinge of an ideal model colliding with a restricted site, revealed though planimetric unfolding operations. 

As the former operation—the hinged bay—collides with both the asymmetrically confined site of the Sheldon and its internal logics (stairs, gallery modules, structure), the extended bays of Johnson's building collapse in on themselves, unfolding the closed toric atrium into a spiraling hinge that distorts the rigid spaces of Johnson's plan into a variety of new gallery spaces. The residual encrustation of Johnson's plan—its mannered neoclassical vaulting—becomes increasingly agitated as it moves further from the ideal.