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Norten Given Go-Ahead for Guadalajara Guggenheim

Images Courtesy Guggenheim Foundation

A jury empanelled by the Guggenheim Foundation has chosen Mexican firm Enrique Norten/ TEN Arquitectos to develop a conceptual design for its proposed Guggenheim Museum in Guadalajara, Mexico. The other competitors in a limited competition for the commission were Ateliers Jean Nouvel, and New York-based Asymptote. Norten’s scheme includes a large, rectilinear tower that would rise over the Barranca, a 2,000-foot gorge at the northern edge of the city. The white, largely transparent tower’s verticality, said competition jurors represents a striking contrast to the sprawling city’s “overwhelming horizontality,” according to comments made by the jury, which included Frank Gehry, FAIA, Guggenheim director Thomas Krens, and Guadalajara Mayor Emilio Gonzalez Marquez. They also noted it helps provide the iconic presence that has become a characteristic of the Guggenheim’s museums. Norten likens the building to a lighthouse that will draw people to the museum and the area, regardless of whether they’re looking at a map.

If built, the tower, will be composed of a series of stacked white-colored steel boxes of different sizes and configurations. These will serve as galleries, which will display art from the Guggenheim’s collection and also feature contemporary Latin American work. “It’s almost like a 3-D Tetris,” explains Norten, who designed the recent “Aztec Empire” show for the Guggenheim, is working with engineers Arup and Guy Nordensen on the project. Interstitial spaces between the boxes will serve as public congregating zones. The entire structure will be wrapped in a double skin of glass, and innermost of these will be sealed from the elements. A large open space at the top will either serve as a gallery or a roof garden. Elevators will be suspended to the side of the building, forming an attraction in themselves.

Outside, the building will have its own plaza, designed by landscape architect James Corner/Field Operations. Its texture will slowly morph from natural surroundings into a hardscaped plaza, Norten notes. He adds that the space, which will also include shops and amenities, will be the terminous of a series of plazas within the city, starting with the 16th Century plaza in the city’s center.

Guadalajara seems to have discovered architecture as a way to become a cultural capital. The city’s planned JVC project [RECORD June, 1999, page 119], in which Norten has had an active role, will also include architecture by Wolf Prix, Jean Nouvel, Thom Mayne, FAIA, Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Carmen Pinault, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie Architects.

A Guggenheim spokesperson stresses that a Guadalajara branch of the museum is not a sure thing. The museum, with consulting firm McKinsey & Company, is now undertaking a feasibility study, to be completed in August, to assess the enterprise’s potential costs and benefits. Nevertheless, the new museum plan represents another significant step from Krens to expand the Guggenheim’s international reach. Since taking over as director in 1988, Krens has developed new branches in Bilbao, Spain, Berlin, Germany, and Soho, New York, and recently developed plans for museums in Taichung, Taiwan (which completed a feasibility study, but it appears that the Taichung government will not have enough funds to proceed) and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (which was delayed by court injunction for some time, and now the Guggenheim has decided not to go forward). A branch in Las Vegas closed in 2001, although part of that museum, the Guggenheim Hermitage, is still open.

The Guadalajara project will likely be paid for by a combination of local and federal Mexican funds, notes Guggenheim spokesperson Anthony Calnek. “The board has decided in a broad way that it’s appropriate to proceed globally with expansion,” he adds. “However, it’s still considering in detail what the limits on that expansion will be.”

Sam Lubell