Three Polshek Projects
The central conundrum of our professional lives is the need to resolve the inherent conflicts between the creation of art and the provision of "service." As "artists" we enjoy being provocatively inventive, suspicious of authority, and dismissive of the past. In this, we are in thrall to the abstract idea of beauty.
But the provision of "service" requires that we value human and material history and believe in the obligation to be socially responsible. In benignly subversive ways, my partners and I have sought to resolve conflicts between "art" and "service," allowing us to create designs that we hope generously serve both users and their communities without compromising their visual integrity.
William J. Clinton Presidential Center
Located within a new 27-acre (11-hectare) city park along the south bank of the Arkansas River in Little Rock, the William J. Clinton Presidential Center includes the presidential library, museum, and archives, and the Clinton Public Policy Institute and Clinton School of Public Service, housed within the historic Choctaw Railroad Station (1899), which has been renovated and restored.
The park replaces an industrial site of abandoned warehouses and vacant open space and provides access to a revitalized riverfront and the vibrant downtown River Market district, effecting a transition between the urban downtown and the rural outskirts of the city.
The building's dramatic glass-enclosed, bridgelike form is emblematic of President Clinton's "bridge to the 21st century." At the same time, it emphasizes accessibility and openness and makes reference to the six bridges that cross the Arkansas River. The renovated Rock Island Railroad Bridge serves as a pedestrian crossing linking the site to North Little Rock.
The main body of the center has been elevated off the ground plane, allowing the new city park along the riverbank to continue uninterrupted underneath. In the main building, the principal public spaces include a 20,000-square-foot (1860-square-meter) exhibition sequence with an orientation theater, permanent and temporary exhibits, a multipurpose Great Hall, and cafe.
The complex — the most interactive among the presidential libraries — is to be a major tourist destination for American and foreign visitors, a scholarly refuge for students of government, an incubator for public servants, a forum for the exchange of views by senior diplomats and government officials, and a repository for the 80 million documents that substantiate the legacy of the Clinton Presidency.
Lycée Français de New York
The new home for the Lycée Français de New York unifies the school, previously housed in six separate buildings, on one site on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The building is composed of two five-story structures connected by three full-lot floors and a north-south bridge at the second level.
Shared program spaces such as libraries, cafeteria, auditorium, and gymnasiums unify the school at the three lower levels. The central spaces at each level collectively act as the heart of the lycée. A grand stair leads to a 300-seat auditorium, with access through a double-height lobby.
Unifying the overall design is a framework articulated by a system of horizontal channels and vertical column enclosures. This grid is punctuated by shallow recesses adjacent to each column with an in-swinging operable window, reminiscent of traditional French balconies.
Precast concrete, visually similar to the limestone of the original historic buildings, and a translucent glass channel system are used on the facades to connect the past and the future by invoking memories of the masonry traditions of the old buildings and the promise of the future conveyed by the glass.
A unifying one-story granite base defines both buildings. Carved into these stone bases are the names of significant French and American historical and cultural figures. A transparent glass entry wall and projecting canopy marks the lobby on both the north and south sides of the building.
The Scandinavia House in New York City provides an innovative and recognizable design solution for a cultural institution situated along Manhattan's Park Avenue. The institutional mission of the American Scandinavian Foundation and the history of unapologetically modern Nordic design shaped the design concept.
The formally abstract building is defined by its materials and details, which make reference to Scandinavian building traditions. On the street facade, zinc panels appear to float before a field of glass. A narrow spruce panel, which is adjacent the entrance and rises nearly halfway up the second floor, is rendered as an open screen. Horizontal lengths of milled spruce running across the facade provide a degree of sun control and increase the density of the composition.
The program includes the 174-seat Victor Borge Auditorium on the lower level; a reception area and Scandinavia Café on the ground floor; a multiuse gathering space on the second floor; and on floors three through six, exhibition galleries, a library and children's learning center, conference rooms, and offices for the American Scandinavian Foundation.
The stair and elevator core on the north, which is articulated with deep blue artisan plaster, unifies the spaces in section and orients the visitor. A grand staircase ascends from the ground floor through the daylit double-height space to a large, dramatic reception area. Suffused with natural light, this area opens to a 750-square-foot (70-square-meter) terrace offering a dramatic view of the Empire State Building.
The absence of stylistic trademarks in our firm can be easily misconstrued as signifying the absence of a shared design philosophy. But we believe the design work must be depersonalized in order to allow it to more effectively express the mission and place of the sponsoring agents. This places paramount importance on each client's self-perception and an inclusive approach to their particular physical circumstances.
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James Stewart Polshek is principal of Polshek Partnership Architects. Founded in 1963, the New York firm's partners are Joseph L. Fleischer, Timothy P. Hartung, Duncan R. Hazard, Richard M. Olcott, James S. Polshek, Susan T. Rodriguez, and Todd H. Schliemann.
This article is excerpted from Polshek Partnership Architects: 1988-2004, copyright © 2005, available from Princeton Architectural Press and at Amazon.com.