Garage Gorky Park
By Jason Dibbs
OMA’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art offers the simultaneous reimagination and preservation of the 1968 Vremena Goda Pavilion, a Soviet canteen in Moscow’s Gorky Park. Translated as Seasons of the Year, architect Igor Vinogradsky’s Vremena Goda had been languishing in dereliction since the 1990’s, until it was recently designated as the new home for Garage, and the centre of Moscow’s latest cultural precinct.
Founded in 2008 by Dasha Zhukova, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art first occupied the iconic Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage, designed in 1926 by the highly influential Russian architect Konstantin Melnikov and engineer Vladimir Shukhov. After searching for a new home-base for the evolving artistic programs and exhibitions of Garage, Zhukova and her partner, Roman Abramovich acquired the Vremena Goda Pavilion and adjacent Hexagon buildings in Gorky Park, both in varying states of disrepair after suffering years of neglect and exposure to the natural elements and vandalism.
The origins of this thoroughly modern project can arguably be traced back further though, to 1965, when a young Dutch journalist named Rem Koolhaas visited Moscow for the first time. This was to prove a transformative experience for Koolhaas; after seeing the drawings of Ivan Leonidov at the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture, he decided to pursue a career in architecture himself. Thus, there is a certain poetry and poignancy underlying Koolhaas’ return to Moscow for the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, which is incidentally, OMA’s first built project in Russia.
OMA, in collaboration with engineer Werner Sobek, fortified existing prefabricated structural concrete forms, and preserved various Soviet architectural details, such as a propagandist work of mosaic-tiles entitled ‘Autumn’, patterned wall tiles and interior brick facades, in a state of suspended decay; neither seeking to restore or renew historical elements, but to resuscitate them into a palimpsest of living history.
|The building is a ruin but it is not a very old ruin and there are still traces of decoration. We were able to convince our client to maintain some of the aesthetic and experiment – we have these traces of Russian history as a partner of the art.”|
The structure is clad entirely in a double layer of translucent polycarbonate, commencing from an elevated height of 2.25 metres, thus allowing a sense of flowing continuity at the ground level between the museum’s interior spaces and the surrounding park. This sense of continuity, and the play between interiority and exteriority are further enhanced at the entrance to the Garage, with grand façade panels that slide upwards to frame the generous double-height lobby space.
The overall design for the 5,400m2 building comprises two levels of exhibition galleries, an education centre for children, auditorium, offices, shop, café, and rooftop terrace. The creative adaptation of the existing structure is organized around two primary circulation and service cores, generating a range of varying interior exhibition spaces, but also including movable hinged white walls, accommodating more conservative curatorial requirements.
Koolhaas’ re-conception of the site is imbued with an evolved sense of Cold-War modernity. The structure of the original Soviet building is itself framed as an archaeological or forensic artefact, and the simple, clean lines of the façade envelope betray very little of the complex environmental and structural technologies deployed throughout. Behind a mask of simplicity, resides a latent tension that is easily overlooked in this project, but which has become the hallmark of much of Koolhaas’ oeuvre. At play is an exploitation of the tension between old and new, of interior and exterior spaces, and most significantly, an exploration of the roles of public and private spaces and funding models for our contemporary era. OMA’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art offers a new vision for heritage architecture and a thoroughly humanist interpretation of history as something lived.