Viñoly's Glass House

The structure which develops in the DUMA's newest exhibit, "Final Form: Rafael Vi-oly's Nasher Museum of Art," is a great gamble. It is less a building of divine inspiration than a tribute to constraint and compromise. The five separate structures that comprise the soon-to-be museum will be aesthetically unremarkable, the concrete children of budgetary constraints. They relate to each other only through a glass and steel atrium whose own crystalline structure could unify or destroy the entire complex, depending on how it is viewed. The exhibit shows the atrium's possibilities with digital renderings from different elevations and angles. In one frame, the atrium appears as a frozen glacier slicing through the hubris and arrogance of the gray box exhibition spaces, seemingly on loan from Edens Quad. There is no unity, no constructive action. But from the top down, the atrium is a great catalyst, which binds and controls the buildings as much as the people who will move about within them--and this is what will have to occur. "The building will succeed or fail based on that space," said David Roselli, the assistant director of the museum. He is right, and in its presentation of this fascinating point the exhibit becomes most deserving of our time and its space. Architect Rafael Vi-oly is testing the limits and virtues of the Duke student body as much he is those of glass and steel. Nine thousand square feet of space--the largest open area in the entire museum--will be set aside for a vibrant community of students. Like Pygmalion, they can give life to the cold clay with flights of passion and conception. A few dilettantes with lattZs won't do. The building will literally breathe or suffocate based on what occurs within this atrium--the ducts and vents have been built into the steel beams that support the glass. This icy structure of crystals and boxes will count on a very human pulsing to find its most complete, living form. Perhaps most important, by linking architectural success to human success in such an immediate way, the exhibit demands that the viewer go beyond simply evaluating a structure, and moves us to ask greater questions about the Duke student body itself. --Bodkin Vachon


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