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The Walker Art Center: Insistently Hip?

In the July issue of House & Garden, architecture critic Martin Filler issues a lethal takedown of the recently unveiled addition to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the Pritzker Prize-winning firm that turned a London power station into the Tate Modern several years ago, the addition has garnered both praise and vitriol in broadsheets and blogs since opening this past April. Now it’s the glossies turn.

Here’s what Filler has to say about the design:

The architects devised a module of square, perforated aluminum panels embossed with an abstract pattern. Up close, the irregular surface resembles crumpled paper, but from just across the street the subtle effect is barely legible, though at night the lanternlike structure takes on an intriguing inner radiance. (Ed. note: We’re still playing sorta nice here. But then…
)

The chunky, angular addition—its dull gray metal skin pierced by a few irregularly shaped windows—brings to mind Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin. So do the Walker’s overwrought circulation spaces, where every plane tilts this way or that in a futile effort to seem exciting. But this warmed-over deconstructivism feels fatally dated.

Halbreich and her chief curator, Richard Flood, agreed that though they wanted to replicate the calm character of Barnes’s galleries, there was no need for the entire addition to follow a single, low-key aesthetic. However they went to the opposite extreme by endorsing a schizoid stylistic mix of interiors. As you move among jittery expressionist corridors, serene modernist galleries, and an ironic rococo theater, the tripolar mood swings seem silly rather than scintillating.

Not every museum turns out to be timeless…
but neither is civic architecture disposable…. Because parts of the new Walker already seem passé, it’s hard to imagine that the addition as a whole will age gracefully.

Ouch. The design is a bit, uh, hulking, but we actually like the texture of the panels—it’s a nice, battered alternative to all that swoopy Gehryness. Thing is, we’d be interested to see a major new project that’s not made of aluminum. 2005 needs a new “it” material. What’s it gonna be?

Previous reviews of the Walker from The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Related: We couldn’t resist posting some of our favorite entries to the City Pages’ inspired “What the Hell Does the Walker Look Like?” contest.

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