Kasia Piekarczyk & Asmund Skeie
In 1966 the city of Madrid invited to an unprecedented, public exhibition. The multimedia event presented the ambitious plans for a brand new city centre at AZCA that would brand Madrid as a modern metropolis and launch the city into the 21st century. At the heart of the proposal were the plans for a new cultural landmark, the national concert hall, that would bind together and unify its various parts and planned programmes. Over the course of the next several years, however, the plans were repeatedly redrawn to the point where the cultural landmark was eventually dropped. Contrary to the initial intentions, AZCA developed in line with the interests of private and commercial stakeholders. The resulting homogenous mix of office space and retail has left AZCA as dysfunctional island within the city, with little on offer to the general public.
Analysis & Aim
Taking the failure of the original plans as our point of departure, the project seeks to address two issues in particular: AZCAs function as an urban space, and AZCAs function within the city of Madrid.
AZCA today suffers from being disconnected from the surrounding urban fabric, as well as from poor connectivity within the site itself. We propose to remove the top layer of walkways under which there are today only temporary parking lots. Our intervention opens up a whole new ground floor on all the buildings affected, which then can be used for commercial and cultural purposes to enrich public life in the area, as well as improves the access to the site.
The second issue deals more directly with the loss of the originally planned cultural landmark. Inspired by the visionary thinking of the original design, we therefore propose to reinstitute this cultural landmark in the form of the Vertical Wunderkammer.
Concept – The Wunderkammer
Wunderkammers were collections of objects belonging to anything from natural history and geology to religious or historical artefacts. Patrons would exhibit their Wunderkammers to a chosen audience or to the public at large with the explicit intention of inspiring awe and amazement in the viewer, who would reflect on the strange and wonderful world in which we live. Wunderkammers were thought of as microcosms of the world, and in many respects are considered as precursors to museums.
Our project aims to take the Wunderkammer into the 21st century, whereby a Robot, an objective machine of artificial intelligence will portray to the visitor a mirror image of our contemporary societies.
At its disposal are the many artefacts stored within its archive, no longer limited to the traditional physical object, but now also as expressed in their many and varied analogue, digital and virtual forms. The Robot, and its role as a curator, is what makes the Wunderkammer unique.
Directly plugged to the internet, it can access, process and analyse an almost infinite amount of information on which to base its exhibition on, using any and as many of the artefacts available to it as necessary.
Furthermore, the Robot represents an objective logic, which, in the end, is what makes it different from any other curated exhibition or programme; whether in the form of national museums or art galleries, newspaper and TV documentaries, or any other attempts at fairly portraying our society.
The Robot stores the objects in whichever way is more efficient at any given time. It means that the arrangement of objects within the repository, as well as the exhibition in the Wunderkammer, will be constantly changing.
The Experience – Narrative Concept
The organisation and conceptual narrative of the interior experience of the building can be thought of as something akin to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The passage through the building traces the journey from the dark depths of the Cave, here represented by the Subterranean Archive, passing through the material world, as expressed by the artefacts within the archive, to the final stage of enlightenment, which Plato ascribes to his Forms or Ideas as “possessing the highest and most fundamental kind of reality”.
This ideal state is embodied in the Robot, whose objective sense of reality is presented to us in the form of the Wunderkammer.
The Vertical Wunderkammer essentially consists of five parts, where the first part is the experience of the exterior envelope and the building in its urban context. Apart from its function as an effective climate barrier, the building envelope relates to – and respects its immediate surroundings both by way of its rectangular form and height, as well as through its dignified and sober facade in concrete. Finally the envelope serves to safeguard and hides the Wunderkammer inside, and its closed facade and monolithic appearance seeks to install in the viewer a sense of curiosity for what lies inside, thereby marking the starting point for the experience of the Wunderkammer, both physically and spiritually.
Part 2_Lobby & Perimeter Walk
Visitors enter the building through the lobby where behind the massive outer walls is revealed an entirely different structure. The Archive of Artefacts rises through the building from its underground levels, which are exposed to the visitor through the glass floor of the Lobby.
The Perimeter Walk offers unique perspective views of the Archive, as the distinction between the inner and outer structures creates soaring voids in the four corners of the building.
Centrally located elevators wait to take the visitor directly through the middle of the Archive to the Wunderkammer at the top level. This exhilarating journey, hanging only from a steel cable in mid-air, is meant to be a thrilling experience. It provides the visitors with an initial immersive and emotional experience and prepares them for the experience of the Wunderkammer.
Visitors step out of the lift into the Wunderkammer, into an ever-changing experience. By means of its objective logic, for each exhibition, the Robot will compose and curate a display of artefacts, in a manner that is meant to confront us with an unfiltered, true depiction of facets of society.
The Wunderkammer itself can be arranged and rearranged in a variety of ways, the Robot is able to take full advantage of the size of the room, sometimes installing new, temporary parts to the permanent load bearing structure. One day a labyrinth of artefacts, the next an empty arena of digital projections; each exhibition is a different, a new theme, an entirely different arrangement of space.
Part 5_Panorama Deck
Visitors leave the Wunderkammer by taking one of two spiral staircases down past the technical floor to the final part of the building, the Panorama Deck. As the first of its type in Madrid, this raised public space offers phenomenal panoramic views over the city and beyond.
It’s intended function is akin to the traditional panorama buildings that were popular in the late 19th century. These buildings would bring visitors into a large circular room where on the wall was painted a panoramic view of some far-away place, in effect taking the visitors on a journey.
The Panorama Deck works according to the same principle, but from a more subjective perspective. While it doesn’t offer up any other views than the one right in front of you, having experienced the Wunderkammer the visitor will now gaze out and look upon the panorama of Madrid with new eyes and a fresh perspective.
As the only floor in the building which is open to its surroundings, Panorama Deck serves as a space to contemplate and to reposition yourself in the city, before returning to it.
Who influences you graphically?
It was clear to us from the beginning that the concept of the Vertical Wunderkammer will rely strongly on imagery as explanatory means. The idea evolves around the experience of the project and thus can only be described in words and visuals. This stimulating factor caused us to attach great importance to graphical language.
However, there wasn’t a particular inspiration for creating the images. Due to the urge of achieving a certain atmospheric quality the process was instinctive, rather than modelled on any style.
Where do you see the museum of the 21st century – how does this relate to the Wunderkammer and to what extent does this require a physical space?
There is a dissonance between the record of history contained in form of tangible objects and the intangible data, accumulated in digital form.
This subtext and this particular melancholy over the physical artefacts is expressed in the project.
In the twenty-first century, our ability to accumulate all matter grows exponentially.
Also, with the development of technology, there seems to be no limit as to what we can store. It has a bearing on how we want to perceive our museums and how we imagine their future collections.
Therefore, couple of important questions arise:
What should be remembered?
How to categorise what we decide to keep?
Who has the responsibility to curate future collections /memories?
In the project of Vertical Wunderkammer, the character of the objective guardian is illustrated by the Robot which orchestrates such collection.
What dictated the choice of objects you chose to reveal in the images?
The objects relate to the culture and history of Madrid and Spain. The archive and the core of the building is a collection of physical artefacts that share a specific narrative depending on different configurations with each other. It takes place each time at the very top of the building, in the interactive exhibition space of the Wunderkammer.
What were the driving principles for the images?
The most important principle is that all the images create a sequence which illustrates the step-by-step experience, therefore they are created from the point of view of the visitor. Together with the spatial aspects of the project it resulted in dynamic visuals.
How do the figures, as those of Hockney, inform the image? What is their role?
People painted by Hockney contain in themselves a certain tension, even if the scene is static. They embody a story-telling quality which complements the narrative of our project. In addition, they provide a scale to the illustrations that are otherwise devoid of another context for measure.
Kasia Piekarczyk has previously worked at BIG Copenhagen and Henning Larsen Hong Kong. She is currently finishing her Masters in Architecture at TU Delft in the Netherlands and looking forward for the next steps.
Åsmund Skeie is due to finish his Master in Architecture at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design. He has previously studied at TU Delft and is currently doing an internship at BIG in Copenhagen.