The Guggenheim museum, an iconic New York City attraction, is one of the most impressive buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. While you can go there to admire Vassily Kandisky’s works belonging to the permanent collection or to attend the latest temporary exhibition by some well-known or emerging star in the firmament of contemporary art, the building deserves a visit just to get to know more about its innovative design.
The smooth walk is functional to the act of viewing the paintings. The light slope downward makes walking and standing less wearisome and you are liberated from the stress of climbing stairs, taking elevators, looking for the room where the painting you are interested in is, gets around the crowd that gets in your way, and the other gimmicks you have to deal with in more ordinary museum buildings.
You do not need to know or do much to appreciate it: just enter the central atrium, a large rotunda from which you can observe the whole structure, a giant white and circular open space. Then, walk to the elevator, get off at the last floor, and stroll along the ramp that leads you back to the rotunda across six floors, following a gentle slope along a breathtaking spiral.
The Guggenheim building is a fantastic example of human centered design. Lloyd Wright focus was on the museum goers experience, which he visualized as a flawless flow from the ticket desk to the artworks and back. The structure has a functional center in the ample atrium, which is the start and the end of the visit, and the space where the downward spiral lands. The atrium is also central in the visitor experience from both the functional and the emotional point of view. From the rotunda you can spot the other visual centers of the building, a skylight oculus 96 feet above you. The two centers create two fields of force: a downward one drawn from gravity that leads from the top of the spiral to the rotunda, and an ascending one that leads our gaze through the huge white open space towards the luminous ceiling. Compressed and exalted at the same time by these two centers, the spiral seems to act as a spring that prevents the building from falling apart.
The tension between these two powerful centers of force creates the dynamism that is well described by the architectural historian and critic Paul Goldberger, as cited on the Guggenheim website: “In many buildings, you observe them best by staying in one place and taking it all in. But the only real way to experience the rotunda is to move along the spiral…. Because it’s the experience of feeling the space that changes, going round and round at this remarkable pace that Wright sets for you…seeing a piece of art that you have just seen close-up again across the rotunda from a distance. All those things are essential to the experience of the Guggenheim. It’s a building that you cannot experience by sitting in one place…. It was Wright’s idea that the building is about movement through space as much as it is about space itself.”