Holl's partner, Chris McVoy, urged us to be patient. "It's kind of an awkward moment," he told the Strip from his New York City office. "It's a gangly teenager. We're very happy, and we're sure it's going to do KC proud." So on one February day, a museum official led this skeptical sirloin inside one of the glass-covered "lenses" that was near completion. At the time, the Strip was "thoroughly blown away by how stupendous the addition is going to be for visitors who venture inside." Even in its rough phase, the Strip admitted, "the space was really breathtaking" ("Pain in the Glass," February 3, 2005).
Now, of course, the buildings are finished. The new galleries in the Bloch Building won't open until June 9, 2007. But this past weekend, the Nelson celebrated the reopening and expansion of its now 22-acre outdoor sculpture garden, and the Strip figured it was time to take a closer look.
Again, the day of our tour was cold and wet. Because Holl's concept was to create a structure that would work with the museum's landscape meaning a chunk of the tour would be outside we had hoped for sunshine. Alas, the Strip didn't get it.
At the north end of the Nelson, Marketing and Communication Manager Lara Kline explained why they'd chosen Holl's design. Most of the other architects wanted to build large additions onto the original 1933 building, but Holl proposed an innovative design that connected the original and new buildings underground.
Kline glanced at the Strip's hooves. Finding this filet's footwear appropriate, she began to wind the Strip through the five lenses. Zigzagging across a grassy path between the second and third lenses, the Strip realized that we were standing directly above the Modern and Contemporary Art gallery. Holl's objective of fusing the landscape with the architecture seemed to have been beautifully executed. Being a grazer, the Strip noted the lush, green grounds.
"Engineered soil," Kline replied.
Farther down the walkway, between the fourth and fifth lenses, we came to Ursula von Rydingsvard's "Three Bowls," a sculpture of three enormous cedar and graphite cups. Once again, it was impossible to tell that we were standing on the ceiling of the special exhibitions room. We rounded the end of the building (skipping some Henry Moore pieces to the south) and headed up the west side of the Bloch.
There, a clear wall of glass runs all the way to the ground, and it looks like the grass outside is touching the floor inside well done. Also, a symmetrical bed of rocks stretches across both sides of the glass wall. (Inside, there's a fountain, but it's not installed.) This is Naguchi Court, a quiet, peaceful, Zen-like retreat, Kline said.
She kept bringing up porosity. Later, during a phone conversation, McVoy explained the concept.
"We just mean a kind of openness," McVoy said. "It happens here on a couple of levels. There's a porosity to the landscape it's outward-oriented from the inside. There's the porosity of the five lenses, as opposed to one large mass. Another level has to do with walking through the interior and having multiple choices of paths. Bypass the galleries and go to Naguchi Court, or meander through Modern and Contemporary and skip the others. That openness inside has its complement in the gardens above, with meandering paths and multiple circuits in and around lenses, down to Rockhill, etc."
But by this point on the tour, the porosity of the landscape was pretty clear, thank you, and it was damned windy besides. This snoopy sizzler wanted to take advantage of all that openness and go indoors.
Inside, the Strip was blown away again. The lobby the only part of the addition connected to the original museum is truly magnificent: soaring, curved ceilings; gorgeous light; gleaming floors. It became evident how the atmosphere inside the Bloch could change with the weather, the season, the time of day.
"In the morning, it can be bright-white, and sometimes at sunset, it turns a little pink," Kline said. "It's very moody." Today, it was gloomy but a good, pensive gloomy.
"The art!" Kline suddenly exclaimed. "They're installing the art!"
The Strip could understand her excitement. After seven years Holl's design was chosen in 1999; the museum broke ground in 2001 this was the day that these pristine walls would finally meet the works we'd been missing for months: Franz Kline's "Turin," Willem de Kooning's "Woman IV," Emil Nolde's "Masks."
By then, this humbled hamburger knew that the whole thing was just as spectacular as Nelson Director and CEO Marc Wilson had been promising for months, ever since he started taking crap for the unconventional look of the lenses.
Wilson resisted gloating when the Strip grilled him about current criticisms. How did he feel about the almost finished product?
What about folks who are still cranky about the lenses?
"There are a lot of people who love them. I get more feedback now that's positive rather than negative."
McVoy is a little looser-lipped. The Nelson's leaders, he says, "were really looking for something of our time, of the 21st century new, innovative architecture." He adds, "When you put that next to a sacred icon like the old building, it's bound to be controversial. People are going to be resistant to change, have their own notions and opinions about what's appropriate and fitting. And it's a healthy debate for a community to have. It's engaging people in architecture and heightening their awareness of their city and community."
Besides, he says, "What we also find is, every time, when the building is done, when people can experience it firsthand, the controversy goes away."
But the hush that's fallen over discussion may also owe something to one other little fact that this art-lovin' meat patty notices every time it drives by on Cleaver Boulevard: All that porous landscaping with its new trees, built-up berms and fresh turf makes it harder to see the damned thing.