The ArchRecord Interview: Alan Maskin
JM: Having done this project, do you think you’d pursue another one like it?
AM: We were drawn to this project because of the particularities: it was a very brave client who would be willing to experiment and try things that hadn’t been done before and they wanted to make a place that was unlike any other. I don’t know that we’re necessarily interested in redoing this project over and over again because I don’t think we could. This is a one of a kind place and experience for kids and families. But there are other types of projects that exist like that out in the world and I think we’re increasingly interested in those. We’re looking at doing other projects now that are also sort of strange and extraordinary in their own ways.
JM: What are some of those projects?
AM: I’m inspired by the projects that, from a design standpoint, may have hit a plateau: the small history museums that exist in every single town, for example, all across the United States where people have gathered their found objects and collections. Is there a way to start telling those stories that is interesting? There’s an existing paradigm for how it is that these stories are told and how it is that objects are displayed. We’re very intrigued in a new way of looking at something that’s been ongoing and clearly a need for communities to have.
JM: You mentioned that your firm is known for both residential and cultural work. Which do you primary do?
AM: Early on I worked on a variety of museums and exhibits. I think the first museum I worked on with Rick Sundberg, a partner in the firm, was the Frye Art Museum. It only had representational art and they’d never had a professional museum staff. But then they did a major renovation, which we came in and designed, and they transformed that museum. Now it’s got not only this extraordinary permanent collection, but ongoing exhibits that question what representational art means today. We were able to participate in this metamorphosis from what had once been a kind of stodgy museum, that very few people saw, to what is really alive and what has become I think the second largest art institution that’s visited in Seattle right now. It’s extremely successful.
JM: Do you work on residences as well?
AM: I do. In our firm there’s been this really interesting overlap between the residential and the museum projects, in particular. We have a large portfolio of residences for art collectors. So there’s been this back and forth between the museum design and the gallery design and the working for people with these collections. We learn from curators what the requirements are in terms of the best ways to display, preserve, and protect art over time, but we also have learned a way to soften the edges of an institutional projects with a residential quality. They’re modern projects, without question, but there’s an edge to them where both of these different project types have informed one another over time.
What you learn from museum curators is that you can only have 14-foot candles on a painting, for example, or you need to control the environment over time. You learn the types of art that can actually handle certain kinds of environmental conditions. And then you can actually design in that regard. Particularly in the Northwest, we’ve become very interested in carving the northwest light so there’s the presence of light in the architectural spaces without light ever actually hitting pieces of artwork. We’ve tried to do that because we love daylight in buildings, we love daylight in art spaces, but we know we have to control it.