The joy of movement

Monday 19 Jul 2010

The illusion of movement informs a museum dedicated to screen culture

Originally built as the East Coast production studios of Paramount Pictures, the landmark loft-like structure that now houses the Museum of the Moving Image will reopen on 15 January 2011 after undergoing a $67m transformation led by Thomas Leeser of Leeser Architecture. The expansion adds on to the rear of the existing three-story building, nearly doubling its footprint to 97,000 sq ft, and several new screening rooms. But by far the most dramatic aspect of Leeser’s design is how it will transform the museum experience - immersing visitors in a continuous and interactive display of video content as they make their way through the building, which has been infused with a new dynamism.

The visitor's journey begins at entry where Leeser has endowed the existing building facade with a new transparent portal made of mirrored and transparent glass and inscribed with the words ‘Museum of the Moving Image’ in letters that are three and a half feet tall. With its teasing play of light-merging direct vision and reflection within a single frame, the new entrance is the first of many screens the visitor encounters. Once beyond the portal, a series of spaces flow freely into one another forming a continuous space in which gently canted forms lend a sense of dynamism to the walls and ceiling and surfaces de-materialise into the weightless, illusory depth of the moving image. At one side of the lobby is a large video wall, 50 ft long by 8 ft high that projects a seamless panorama of video images.

A pair of ramps enclosed in softly glowing blue tunnels lead from the lobby to a new 264-seat theatre that accommodates every format of film and digital media. Conceived as a capsule for the imaginary voyage of movie-going, the theatre has a wraparound ceiling and walls made of 1,136 fabric panels in a sensuous, vibrant Yves Klein blue, that alters the viewer’s depth perception creating a sensation of being suspended in space. Other screening areas in the museum include a 1,700 sq ft Video Screening Amphitheatre and a small gallery inserted into the first landing of the grand staircase, where the risers are transformed into an abstract language of built-in-benches and the screen wall is located above the stair; and a new 68-seat film and digital screening room on the ground floor used for education programs and more intimate and experimental screenings. In contrast to the main theatre, the secondary screening room has a hot pink entrance, exposed loudspeakers and a grey perforated acoustical wall and ceiling surface, making it more of an exposed machine for the moving image.

The third floor houses a new gallery for changing exhibitions that provides the Museum with its first completely flexible space - 4,100 sq ft of unencumbered space for presenting cutting-edge new projects. A new Education Center located on the building's far west side completes the program. It has a dedicated entrance in the Museum's Courtyard Garden from where visitors' can see the addition's dramatic facade. Comprised of a surface pattern of triangles and constructed of 1,067 thin aluminum panels mounted on a support structure with open joints, the light blue façade creates the impression of a super-light floating skin as it dematerializes against the sky.

With the design of its new building, the Museum of the Moving Image opens a new chapter in its 30-year history. The building re-presents the museum as a dynamic place ‘where visitors can encounter the moving image everywhere in a natural and casual way” and “experience their movement through the building as a kind of participation in the imaginary movement of images on the screen,’ said Leeser.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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