‘There's a spiritual quality about looking at art you don’t want to undermine’ - Annabelle Selldorf
On the opening of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel the architect describes the power of sculpting art spaces
Architectural competitions confuse Annabelle Selldorf. Why, in an age of splashy, Instagram-friendly architecture, do competition organisers invite her to submit plans?
Selldorf’s work, as the LA Times put its in a recent profile, “speaks to the transformative power of sculpting space in subtle and dignified ways.” She makes beautiful buildings, albeit ones that are unlikely to impress the average jury member.
“If all the juries want is big-gesture architecture by big architects, then why ask me?" she asks the paper. “I grew up learning that buildings are there for a long time, so you have to have your humanist beliefs in play,” says the German-born, New York-based architect. “You have to think about what that experience can do for people, how it can be dignified, if you will. I really deeply believe that. Especially with the art experience: There is a spiritual quality about looking at art that you don’t want to undermine with noise or clichés.”
Selldorf spoke to the paper ahead of the opening of the simple, cliché-free Los Angeles art complex Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, the LA outpost for the Swiss gallery Hauser & Wirth, which Selldorf and local firm Creative Space, built within a complex of late 19th and early 20th century buildings.
The project, which not only includes a gallery, but also a bookshop, a public garden, murals, and a restaurant, is in Selldorf’s opinion, less a simple architectural job, and more “an urban design project.”
“There wasn’t much in the cluster of buildings that said, “Here I am, I’m open and welcoming.”” She tells the paper. “The block was closed.”
Selldorf opened up the space with courtyards and interconnecting walkways, melding public and private spaces. “Those aren’t architectural moves,” Selldorf explains, “they’re urban design moves.”
Those moves might take on additional significance in a fine-art setting. However, Selldorf, who has reinvented gallery design, overseeing numerous display spaces for David Zwirner, the Gagosian, Frieze, and the LUMA Foundation among others, says she doesn't greatly alter the way she works, just because she’s designing for art lovers.
“In some ways, I don’t think it is any different from any other building,” she explains, “other than that it's fuelled by a passion for art and by a real commitment to making spaces that celebrate the art. All of our approach is to know what the fundamental soul of the building is. Making spaces for art takes particular understanding of how people move in space, how they look at art, to create proportional spaces, spaces that are well-lit and that are sort of discreet.”
Selldorf certainly has that understanding, as well as the ability to create buildings that will remain fit for purpose over the coming decades. They might not be to the taste of the architectural juries, but that suits her just fine.
Read the full interview here; find out more about Hauser Wirth & Schimmel here; and for a greater understanding of this important contemporary architect, order a copy of our new Selldorf Architects monograph, here.