Stellar lecture last night at CCA by Nicholas Adams, an art historian at Vassar who’s written, among other things, the definitive book on Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. His current project looks at Gunnar Asplund’s Goteborg Law Courts Annex, a star-crossed project that went through numerous revisions before finally being built in 1936. Architecture students in the 1980s (and you know who you are) will recognize this facade as one of the iconic forefathers of post-modernism, with all of the slipped grids, asymmetries, complexities and contradictions that occupied our drafting boards in studio.
Adams’ point, though, was that the exterior was something of a last minute hail-Mary pass, while the building’s interior didn’t change even as the elevations went from neo-classical to proto-postmodern (I can’t believe I just wrote that). The entry sequence to the building passed through the existing courts building’s atrium, and then through an interior space that features evocative, though abstracted, symbols of community and justice. This space, apparently, remained more or less consistent even as the facade went through its changes.
The result is a provocative discussion between a very abstracted facade and a very warm, emotionally charged interior, representing two very distinct perceptions of the courts system. Adams made a strong case that these two were linked through the experience of walking past one and into the other, and that the seemingly competing messages–while unrelated in terms of tectonics or structure–were resolved in the actions of the courts and the lived perceptions of the people it represented. That, he seemed to propose, should be Goteborg’s most important legacy, not the slipped grids and fragmentary facade that we all copied twenty-five years ago.