In 2014, when she became The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s first curator of architecture and design, Beatrice Galilee had an inspiration: Why not invite more than a dozen architects and designers to speak at the museum on the same day—as a way of summing up a year’s worth of architectural achievements. Recently, she presented the second installment of “In Our Time: A Year of Architecture in a Day,” which featured the Pritzker Prize winner Wang Shu, from Hangzhou, China; Junya Ishigami and Go Hasegawa, both from Japan; Amanda Levete from London; and many others. Even those architects who flew thousands of miles were given just 10 minutes to speak.
Before coming to the Met, Galilee, an architectural historian, was chief curator of the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale and co-curator of citywide architecture festivals in Gwangju, South Korea, and Shenzen, China, and director of The Gopher Hole, an exhibition and project space in London.
While recovering from the whirlwind event at the Met, she sat down with Fred Bernstein of AD to revisit it.
Architectural Digest: Why bring all these architects together on one day?
Beatrice Galilee: When you see one architect after another showing work that was built in the same year, it has a real impact. Seeing one lecture every few months would not have had the same effect.
AD: You asked people to come from very far away.
BG: It’s important to look at architecture globally. Also, it’s a way to represent the diversity of cultures and identities reflected in the profession. Architecture is not just the realm of the rich and famous.
But most importantly, if people come from all over the world to present their work, you see connections and parallels that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.
AD: What connections did you see?
BG: A lot of the architects who spoke aren’t looking to create spectacles. They’re interested in responding to specific places, to forming relationships with particular landscapes.
AD: That was certainly true of Wang Shu. He flew halfway around the world, only to introduce himself as “a very local architect.” And he showed a project, the Fuyang Cultural Complex, that almost disappears into the landscape.
BG: That building is not happening anywhere else in the world. It’s about those bricks made with those hands; its meaning is tied to that location.
AD: He said his work was inspired by the gossamer quality of Chinese landscape paintings, including some that are at the Met.
BG: It was nice that it had that connection.
AD: Shih-Fu Peng of Heneghan Peng Architects, in Dublin, showed the Palestinian Museum on the West Bank. He talked about the way it follows the abandoned agricultural terraces, taking the land from food production to cultural production.
BG: And Junya Ishigami, of Tokyo, showed a glass pavilion in a park in Holland that follows the lines of existing pathways. In some of the photos you couldn’t see the pavilion at all. I thought it was exquisite.
AD: I remember Wang Shu asking, “How can you make a huge, 400,000-square-foot building disappear in the landscape? Peng said, ”What’s best about the museum is that it almost disappears.” And Ishigami spoke about “the possibility of creating architecture as new landscape.”
BG: There’s a lot of concern about the impact on the planet. It’s not complete coincidence — I chose the architects on the program and I share that concern. In my view, architecture can’t be presented in a political, social, or environmental vacuum.
AD: Ishigami wasn’t the only Japanese architect to win over the audience.
BG: Right. Go Hasegawa showed a marble chapel in Italy, which he just completed. It was beautiful and precious and special, and I heard some people say it was the high point of the day.
AD: Marwa al-Sabouni, who works in Homs, Syria, couldn’t get a visa to attend.
BG: Marwa never expected to be able to travel to New York, so instead of paying for her flights and accommodations we gave her a budget to make a film. She showed the devastation in Homs, and her ideas, as an architect, for rebuilding that city from the rubble.
AD: Some of the buildings were more familiar. The Columbia Medical School building that Elizabeth Diller presented [the Vagelos Center] and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which was shown by David Adjaye, have been widely published. That was also true of the new courtyard at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, presented by Amanda Levete.
BG: To certain people they may have seemed familiar. But we had many audiences, including people with only a passing knowledge of architecture.
AD: Now that the event is over, what are you working on?
BG: There’s a lot of architecture at the Met — the period rooms, the Temple of Dendur, drawings by Vitruvius and Piranesi, photographs, films — it’s a history of architecture, but it has never been seen as an architecture collection. I’m trying to create a framework for understanding architectural history through the Met’s collection. It could become a book or an exhibition or an app — it’s too early to know.
AD: Will there be “A Year in a Day” in 2018?
BG: It’s too early to know that, too.
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