by Sarah Wesseler
Event: Detour: Art, Architecture, Cities, and Landscapes Symposium
Location: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 01.19.10
Keynote Speaker: Peter Zumthor — Principal, Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner (Haldenstein)
Panelists: Craig Dykers, AIA — Principal, Snøhetta (NYC); Einar Jarmund — Partner, Jarmund/Vigsnæs (Oslo); Svein Rønning — Artist & Head, Arts Council for the National Tourist Routes Project (Bergen); Nader Tehrani — Partner, Office dA (Boston)
Moderator: David van der Leer — Assistant Curator of Architecture and Design, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Conversation: Jerry Gorovoy — Artist’s Assistant, Louise Bourgeois Studio; Nancy Spector — Chief Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Organizers: Architectural League of New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; in conjunction with the “Detour” exhibition at Parsons, The New School for Design
Sponsors: The Royal Norwegian Consulate General
The designers and artists commissioned by Norway’s National Tourist Routes program face an enviable challenge: beauty overload management. To prevent visitors on its driving tours from growing bored by hours of dramatic scenery, the government seeks out creative talent from Norway and beyond to punctuate the experience and focus attention on specific features of the landscape. By hiring innovative architects and artists to work on infrastructure projects, such as bathrooms and picnic shelters, the project simultaneously provides key services and inserts what program director Svein Rønning referred to as “question marks,” or unexpected, playful, and sometimes destabilizing cultural experiences that serve as both complement and counterpoint to the spectacular natural surroundings.
The Guggenheim symposium, scheduled to coincide with the closing of a Parsons exhibition celebrating the National Tourist Routes program, used the Norwegian example as a jumping-off point for a broader discussion about design, infrastructure, and community. Snøhetta’s Craig Dykers, AIA, discussed a pro-bono project in Guatemala City in which the firm, approached about the possibility of creating a signature building to raise the city’s profile, recommended that the municipality instead focus its attention on a project that would have a far greater impact on its residents: fixing its dilapidated sidewalks. The design team drew up initial sketches for new sidewalks and street furniture, developed ideas about ways to incorporate the work of local artists and craftsmen, and then turned the project over to the city to implement.
Dykers expressed admiration for the National Tourist Routes and similar government initiatives but said that it was ultimately up to designers to take on socially relevant work, with or without external incentives. “As an architect, I think it’s important that you think about ways you can do it without the help of government… that you initiate things on your own, that you take on tasks that might not be well-paid, that have the kind of integrity to move a city forward, on the smaller scale as well as the very large scale.”