Project: Multiform gallery and office suite for A.I.R. Gallery

Team: Vincent Appel, Heather Pfister

Date: 2015
Status: Ongoing
Client: A.I.R. Gallery



The difference between architecture and design is an ideological one. Usually everything that is architecture has been designed. However, not all design is architecture. Architecture enables people to live differently. Done well, it provides agency and occasion where there was none. We offer an architecture that provokes A.I.R. to operate differently while accommodating three years of pre-determined programming. At the most basic level there is always space in the plan for new programming. In less than 2,000 square feet there is both traditional presentation of art and a space for abstract thinking about A.I.R.

The tangible geometry of the architecture is second to the presence of art. The architecture is in the foreground only in moments of transition. As audiences move between galleries or as they shift their gaze from one show to the next, the idea of the architecture reveals itself.

The rigid spatial and ideological constraints of a strong architecture are avoided. A weak architecture is instead developed for the galleries. Iconoclastic virtues are given primacy: inclusion over separation, mutability instead of singularity, overlap not isolation, and equivalency by way of difference. These are nothing less than literal effects of the architecture and metaphors for A.I.R.’s identity. Romance and nostalgia for a white cube or a raw industrial space were considered and then abandoned.

Visual and spatial continuity is calibrated. As the eye’s 40° to 90° field of view (FOV) glances between galleries or as the body moves between passages, the thresholds between spaces are brought to the foreground. Otherwise, the geometries are a platonic background. Vignettes are created for the art and the devices that communicate them: cameras and phones with their ~90° and >30° FOV respectively. Beyond that, the periphery is a blur of light, shadow, and loose meaning.

Present and absent audiences belong to the experience of art. On their way between spaces and images the breadth of A.I.R.’s identity presents itself. At the brief moments of threshold, these ideas are available to the liminal space of the mind. The provocation doesn’t occlude art. It draws the audience closer to A.I.R. The passive among the audience are welcomed to participate.

A.I.R. is not only an art gallery. The presence of the art that is shown while fulfilling its member services is one crucial component of a larger mission. Biasing one element of the mission or a particular type of work should not cast a shadow over the other dimensions of A.I.R. In 1972 A.I.R.’s was an alternative space. The concept was to show art and provide women artists with a negative capability — the resources and capacity to change the context of their art world.

Can architecture do that? Probably not. However, we now know it can engender that idea through a unique conception of space — the primal, unconventional, and unique architecture of A.I.R. we proposed. This was an architecture of relational tectonics, space for new programming, new audiences, and new ideas. It was conceived as a platform for women artists in 2015 and all of A.I.R.’s alternative agendas.