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Aspen Art Museum

Shigeru Ban Architects

Aspen Art Museum
By Raymund Ryan -

As with East Hampton or St. Barth’s, the very word “Aspen” conjures up, in the North American mind, images of recreation and celebrity, of natural beauty together with conspicuous consumption. Aspen started out as a mining settlement, flourishing with fancy hotels and even a miniature opera house before silver prices collapsed in the 1890s. It was resurrected in the aftermath of WWII as both a ski resort and a venue for culture and intellectual exchange; Davos, if you like, without the sanatoria. Now Shigeru Ban has taken the modest Aspen Art Museum and rehoused it in the town center, close to such high-end boutiques as Gucci, Prada and Burberry. Ban’s building is a welcome addition to a characterful Western town that has morphed into a luxurious retail compound. The new museum dares to open itself up to the public and to its breathtaking natural setting.
The site is a corner lot with a service lane running down the back. Both principal façades (north and east) are dressed in a thin perforated screen assembled from vertical and horizontal strips, ribbon-like components of resin and paper sandwiched between thin layers of wood veneer. These screens function as veils to the museum’s innards, unifying enclosed and exposed space, such that Ban’s insertion into the urban fabric of Aspen acts as a cubic lantern once the sun goes down and stars appear overhead. The screen is not uniform. The strips overlap one another to instigate a subtle ripple effect. In addition, the dimensions both of the strips and of the interstitial gaps are modulated such that these façades become denser, like giant architectural weavings, as they move away from the corner and the museum entrance. Ban has spoken of the project’s five critical elements, the same number as Le Corbusier’s famous “Five Points of Architecture” in the 1920s yet less abstract and more empirical. There is, most obviously, the woven screen...

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