Zumthor Sees a Gothic Future

Palazzo Fortuny, già Pesaro Orfei

Architects have a way of comparing their buildings to other buildings that are so different that no one other than the architect can see any comparison whatsoever. Peter Zumthor does that in an interview with CLAD. He likens his biomorphic LACMA design to… the Palazzo Fortuny, Venice.

The Palazzo Fortuny, above, is a Gothic palace that was converted to a museum by 20th-century stage designer, textile artist, and photographer Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949). CLAD says Zumthor finds it “an example of the qualities he is aiming for with his [LACMA] design, which he summarised as ‘a rich atmosphere, historic density and material presence’.”

LACMA medieval gallery c. 1965. LIFE photo collection (c) Time, Inc.

LACMA medieval gallery c. 1965. LIFE photo collection (c) Time, Inc.

For the record, LACMA did once have gothic arches. The photo shows the bizarrely fake-looking installation of the medieval galleries in 1965. This was inside William Pereira’s modernist building. The three-lobed arches mimic those of the Venetian gothic, and the trippy lighting is kind of like what Fortuny did for opera. (LACMA’s display lighting was “so abominable that it must be seen to be believed,” wrote John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture magazine.)

Rem Koolhaas wanted to recapitulate Mies van der Rohe’s unbuilt design; maybe Zumthor is channeling early LACMA faux-medievalism?

Maybe, except that any connection to Zumthor’s design is hard to discern.

Zumthor LACMA rendering

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