“Since the mid-seventies, Stirling has shown his struggle against the boredom produced by the repetition of modern architecture, against its triviality and its inability to situate itself in historical contours. For this he tried to display a work that was narrative and figurative and, at the same time, abstract and technologically advanced”.1
The architectural work of Stirling goes through the postwar period among the different proposals that seek to reformulate the founding concepts of the modern movement. For Stirling, the way to enrich the modern legacy lies mainly in the incorporation of elements of local tradition,
“A combination of canonical forms of the modern movement with elements extracted from the industrial vernacular”.2
The implicit references to the architecture of Melnikov, Le Corbusier or Hannes Meyer are combined in their own way, in the use of brick and stone together with materials of advanced technology. Vernacular-technological conjunction becomes visible in the engineering laboratory of the University of Leicester (1959-1963), in the history faculty of the University of Cambridge (1964-67) and the Queen´s College of Oxford (1966-1971) ), although the functional requirements are never conditioned by the meaning of the forms. In the same way it acts in the projects for the steel company Dorman long in 1965 and the Olivetti center in Haslmere in 1969, but in these cases the mechanistic expressions are more categorical.
At the beginning of the 70s, Stirling assumes an attitude more sensitive to the characteristics of the environment. Both in the project for the Civic Center of Derby (1970) and in the Artistic Center of the University of St. Andrews (1971), the project decisions privilege and enrich the continuity of the urban fabric.
In 1974, in one of his conferences, Stirling strengthens his interest in the context and the use of elements that the community identifies:
“The art of architecture may be the way in which the symbolic functional elements are assembled … but, the total building, must arise from an assembly of the elements of daily life, recognizable to a common man and not only to an architect”.3
When in 1977, he presented the project for the extension of the State Museum of Art in Stuttgart, he ratified that contextualist attitude. The terrain for the extension, adjacent to the neoclassical structure of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart of 1837, has an irregular shape and presents a steep slope, and also faces a street that begins its descent towards an underground passage.
The design appeals to the use of typology as a matrix where elements with different attributes gravitate. The genealogical trace reinterprets the formal characteristics of Schinkel‘s Altes Museum. This reference does not seem accidental, given that several historians consider that project as a new museum typology of the nineteenth century generated by the conjunction of several typologies of classical history. On that matrix, Stirling produces alterations, cuts and additions, and incorporates a complex formal repertoire, until reaching a syntax similar to cubist compositions.
The extension is ordered by an axial axis. With reflective skill, Stirling confronts the old and the modern on the same plot, without the forms being founded on a single object. As in the Altes Museum, the floor of the U-shaped exhibition halls contains a circular figure, but in this case without a dome and without the access portico. The circular central room becomes an open courtyard and the frontispiece in a rectangular access plaza where a double row of trees symbolically alludes to the suppressed colonnade.
The museum spaces revalue the traditional typology of rooms in a row, but are complemented by others with a free floor. The link with the old structure is determined by a transversal circulation that allows the joint operation but protects the autonomy of the old building.
On the outside, the figures that overlap in the typological plot are determined by the function and by its situation in relation to the context. The facade dissolves between ramps and stairs necessary to save the slope of the land, propitiating a dynamic environment that accentuates the public character of the building. The juxtaposition of textures and colors, the artisan use of elements of altered scale and the application of technological advances, make up a building that is both eclectic, plastic and innovative.
“The new building for the Stuttgart museum can be a collage of old and new elements, Egyptian cornices and Romanesque windows, but also constructivist marquees, ramps and fluid forms: a union of elements of the past and the present. Trying to evoke an association with the idea of a museum, I find nineteenth century museums more convincing than those of the XX”.4
Stirling appeals to the metaphor to display a sophisticated game. It uses forms of academic history and vernacular architecture to compose an intentional scenographic collage, in which it alters the proportion of the elements that it extracts from other architectures and assembles them in a maneuver of apparent contradictions. In this work, Stirling summarizes a complex and personal compositional reasoning where, as Montaner points out, dissonance and paradox would be his aesthetic strategy.
Marcelo Gardinetti . architect
La Plata. Decmber 2018
1 Josep María Montaner, Después del movimiento moderno, Ed. G.G. 1993 Cap. XV La versatilidad del eclecticismo.
2 Kenneth Frampton, Historia crítica del movimiento moderno, ed. G.G. 1981 pág. 271
3 James Stirling, Segundo congreso internacional de arquitectura, Persépolis, 1974 – citado por: Alejandro Gómez García, El proyecto cubista: De Le Corbusier a Stirling, Tesis Doctoral, 2001
4 James Stirling, Architectural alms and influences, 1980 – citado en Summarios 84, año 1984, pág. 24.