Guggenheim Says Goodbye to Koolhaas, Hello to Hadid

April 22, 2008

By Tony Illia

The Guggenheim’s Las Vegas outpost
Image courtesy Guggenheim Foundation

Just as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation prepares to cash in its chips on a Rem Koolhaas-designed museum branch that it has operated in Las Vegas since 2001, the institution is placing a new bet on an outpost in Vilnius, Lithuania, designed by Zaha Hadid.

Nicknamed the “Jewel Box,” the Guggenheim’s 7,660-square-foot Vegas venue will close on May 13. The compact museum flanks The Venetian Resort Hotel’s porte-cochere entrance on the Las Vegas Strip. Its Cor-ten weathering steel exterior is a stark departure from the casino’s ersatz baroque architecture, creating what Koolhaas dubbed “a moment of authenticity.” The museum was a joint collaboration between the Guggenheim Foundation, based in New York City, and Russia’s State Hermitage Museum. It staged 10 exhibitions that attracted a total of 1.1 million visitors during its seven-year run.

Zaha Hadid’s design for a proposed new branch of the Guggenheim in Vilnius, Lithuania
Images courtesy Guggenheim Foundation

The Guggenheim’s Las Vegas outpost, designed by Rem Koolhaas, will close in May (top). Zaha Hadid’s design for a proposed new branch of the Guggenheim in Vilnius, Lithuania, to be operated in partnership with Russia’s State Hermitage Museum (above).


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The Guggenheim had also opened a second, larger Vegas museum inside The Venetian—located in a seven-story-tall, 63,700-square-foot industrial-inspired hall—but this space shuttered its doors after only 15 months. Also designed by Koolhaas, that space has since been converted into a theater for the Phantom of the Opera. Both museums were spearheaded by the Guggenheim Foundation’s director, Thomas Krens, who announced in February that he would step down. They opened just one month after the terrorist attacks on September 11th and struggled to gain community support.

The Guggenheim is no doubt hoping that its Vilnius venture, on which it has also partnered with the Hermitage, will be better received—but it is first awaiting the results of a feasibility study. As part of a competition launched in conjunction with that study, Hadid’s design beat out entries from Daniel Libeskind and Massimiliano Fuksas. Her concept calls for a curvy concrete shell, sheathed in aluminum panels, that appears to float over a landscaped strip on the bank of the Neris River. The 139,932-square-foot structure would contain three main volumes articulated as inlays expressed through folds and protrusions of the building envelope. Hadid described it as “a place where you can experiment with the idea of galleries, spatial complexity and movement.”

The feasibility study is expected to finish by mid-June. If the museum gets a green light, no word yet on when it might be built. Vilnius, which is Lithuania’s largest city, will be the European Capital of Culture in 2009.


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