From 4 September 1999 onwards, the Main Room of the Netherlands
Architecture Institute (NAl), with a floor-area of 1000 m2 and
a height of 9 metres, will be taken over by the office Morphosis
from Los Angeles, the driving force behind which is the architect
Thorn Mayne. For Morphosis the architecture of every building
must deal specifically with local, historical and cultural conditions.
The 'silent collisions' between all these different conditions
generate the complexity and meaning of the architecture.
In line with this philosophy, an enormous, partly folding installation
will engage in a confrontation with the building by Jo Coenen.
The installation conveys the (ideas about) architecture of Morphosis
in a better way than would have been possible in a traditional
exhibition with models, texts, drawings, and photographs. Such
an exhibition, no matter how beautiful, offers no emotional experience
of space. The installation by Thorn Mayne not only ensures such
an experience; it also highlights an awareness of this emotional
influence. The atmosphere, just like the space, is slowly transformed
- from a big tall hall with daylight and a view of the water
into a closed box with projection screens as the only light source.
In addition to this impressive experience, the visitor also has
the opportunity to study the work of the office in a more traditional
way. More than 60 beautiful models, 120 original drawings and
many computer studies will be on show on the lower level.
On entering the NAI, the regular visitor will immediately realize
that there is something strange going on. Where normally there
is a wall of opaque glass, there is now an opening through which
one can enter the Main Hall. A slightly inclined ramp leads to
a snow-white platform surrounded by white screens spanning between
aluminium frames. Standing on the platform, the visitor becomes
aware that the space is gradually changing. It takes twenty minutes
for the metamorphosis to run its course: from an open space with
a view of the water outside the NAI to a space cut by fantastic
white forms, and finally to a closed dark box. At this final
stage of the transformation there is a 10-minute series of computer
projections on the moving screens showing the most recent projects
by Morphosis. After this the space gradually opens up again.
The Main Room will undergo this transformation around 1000 times
over the course of the exhibition.
At any time during the whole cycle, the visitor can leave the
platform and descend to the lower level of the Main Room. Thom
Mayne considers this space a the back-stage area behind the continuous
show on the platform. All the installation equipment is exposed
here and is visible beside models, drawings, photographs and
texts on 28 projects by Morphosis. Heavy timber walls serve,
literally and figuratively, to support the exhibition. Three
completely servo-assisted electrical motors with transmission
boxes power the movable elements. An ingenious system of stafic
and moving steel cables combined with revolving cogs and ballast
transfer the forces and 'fold' the space. The installation is
made of thousands of metres of pinewood, 1500 metres of aluminium
sections, 600 square metres of cotton fabric, 1000 square metres
of MDF and more than 10,000 screws and bolts.
Michael Rotondi and Thom Mayne (1944) set up Morphosis in 1971.
Their partnership continued until 1992 and since then Thom Mayne
has been the driving force behind the office. Together with architect
Eric Owen Moss, they belong to the second generation of the so-called
LA School, the undisputed founder of which was Prank Gehry in
the 1970s. An exhibition of work by Gehry will go on show in
the Balcony Room of the NAI on September 11, 1999. The work of
the LA School is characterized by its inventive use of basic
industrial materials, a formal love of fragmentation and complexity,
and carefully crafted details. The architects of the LA School
are closely linked to Los Angeles, the city that unites them:
dynamic, extravagant, and lacking in history. The instability
of this city, with the ever-present threat of unpredictable natural
disaster (earthquake), is expressed in an experimental architecture
that feigns no certainties.
Thom Mayne helped to set up Sci-Arc (Southern California Institute
for Architecture) in Los Angeles, and for years he taught at
the school. The aim of Sci-Arc was to produce architects who
were primarily artists. The artistic approach to architecture
typical of the LA School was expressed by Gehry when he said:
"I think that artistic expression fuels our collective soul,
and it is not simply a matter of innovation or finding answers
to dire social problems."