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Artful architecture

he work of Rafael Viñoly may prove that life does imitate art. His innovative architectural designs have leapt from the drawing board into major urban centers around the world, from New York to Tokyo and Cairo to Buenos Aires. Soon, Durham will become another city on his lengthy list of accomplishments.

The structural design for the Nasher Museum of Art, the planned replacement for the Duke University Museum of Art, is Viñoly's brainchild. The specifics of the development project, which began in May 2000, are now available to the public in a DUMA exhibit featuring the planning materials prepared by Viñoly and his associates.

The exhibit displays a collection of sketches, drawings, plans, models and computer-generated images developed for the new museum. A trip through the exhibit room reveals an evolutionary process still incomplete. The Nasher Museum, which will sit near the intersection of Campus Drive and Anderson Street, has already undergone several major transformations.

Viñoly's early sketches feature an omega-shaped facility centered around an open-air courtyard. Aerial models with topographical gradations, tiny sponge trees and toothpick-size structural elements provide dimension. However, by June, the ovular design had given way to a more structured, geometric facility, and a newer series of images and models marks the transition. The basic museum design was concretized last summer, and consists of five component pavilions: three for galleries, one for an auditorium and one for educational, technical and office space.

Current debate centers around the museum's roof, and a number of different proposals have emerged. Viñoly's team first considered a glass-encased arboretum to crown the massive structure, but the garden roof concept has given way to a simpler glass-and-steel design.

The museum's evolution from graphite sketches to computer-generated simulations is both a technical and artistic process. Balancing aesthetic flourishes with structural requirements seems to dominate the development process, and the exhibit reveals the collaborative nature of Viñoly's efforts. The architect's team has coordinated with lighting consultants, structural and electrical engineers and University officials to yield a product rich with the evidence of ingenuity, pragmatism and consensus.

If Viñoly's past efforts are indicators, the Nasher Museum should be a stunning contribution to Duke's growing group of new facilities. Viñoly's Manhattan-based firm, Rafael Viñoly Architects PC, emerged in 1982 and now boasts satellite offices in Tokyo and Buenos Aires. His Tokyo International Forum in Japan and his Third Avenue skyscraper in New York City are towering testaments to his talent. Viñoly also designed Princeton's new athletic stadium in 1998.

Such an intimate glimpse into the studio work of an accomplished architect is rare. Soon the fruits of Viñoly's local efforts will be visible, but until then, his exhibit remains a fascinating chronicle of the genesis and maturation of design.


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