A lot is riding on the opening of Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). For the frugal and cash-cautious MOCA, the museum must be a successful art destination that brings visitors and dollars in the door. For the community, the expectations are that the project will be the lynchpin in the regeneration of the area. And for Farshid Moussavi, the London-based architect who is designing her first museum and first project in the United States, the building must hit the right note with the public and the critics if she if to climb the artistic ladder as others have and win similar, substantive commissions.
For those in the design community, all eyes are on MOCA’s opening as we get a first look at the direction the Iranian-born architect’s work has taken since her split from Alejandro Zaera-Polo, her former husband and business partner in the uber successful practice Foreign Office Architects, which was dissolved in 2011 and which bested Michael Maltzan Architecture, Office dA, Reiser + Umemoto, and SHoP to win the MOCA commission.
At first glance, the building reads as a sculpture in a landscape and in this way it brings to mind the work of artist Tony Smith, albeit at a larger scale and here housing a program that consists of 34,000 sq ft of flexible gallery space on the top three levels and a large public lobby on the ground floor linked by a dramatic staircase.
As the museum is not a ‘collections based’ institution little storage space was required but Moussavi did have to contend with housing the building’s mechanical plant within the museum proper rather than in a basement space (which was eliminated to save on costs) where it would have had less impact on the aesthetic purity of the building. For the most part the interiors are spare as evidenced in such details as the gallery ceilings which are left unfinished save for some night blue coloured paint that hides the building’s underbelly and implies a sky above effectively extending the space to infinity.
Anchoring a plaza designed by James Corner Field Operations, the museum is a curious confection. A black stainless steel prismatic form in contradistinction to its surroundings that rises from a six-sided base to a four sided top, creating facades of triangles and trapezoids, one of which is transparent and marks the main entrance to the building. Like a chameleon, the building will change over time and with the weather reflecting its surroundings in its mirror-like surfaces. The building, which opened Monday, cost $27.2m and is expected to obtain LEED Silver Certification.