the museum

MONEO ON MODERNA MUSEET IN STOCKHOLM; To locate a large building on Skeppsholmen
Rapfael Moneo, international celebrated architect, talks to Andreas Gedin, artist and editor, about the process behind the designing and construction of Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Here Moneo also comments on his somewhat famous encounter with the Swedish politicians and their preferences of colours...

Text by ANDREAS GEDIN, M - Moderna Museets Vänners tidskrift nr 4/97 & 1/98

Andreas Gedin: When you started to design for the competition, which were the most important things to think about?

Rapfael Moneo: Undoubtedly the fundamental issue was to locate a rather large building on Skeppsholmen without disturbing the well established profile of the island. Therefore it was necessary to define a strategy relating the new museum to the existing buildings as well as to the city as a whole. It is my continuing belief that utilising the uppermost part of the island while simultaneously taking advantage and neutralising the existing Tyghuset was the right direction to take.

AG: Did you change your view on what was important during the building process?

RM: It seems to me that the construction process has proven the validity of my initial strategy.

AG: What was better than you expected?

RM: In my view, a good fit was achieved between the massing of the building and the previously existing structures.

AG: What was worse than you expected?

RM: The craftsmanship did not always have the quality that I expected. The coordination of the different consultants was not easy.

AG: What is different in working with Swedish architects, construction companies and politicians, from working in other countries?

RM: The more mature a society is, the more extensive are the building codes, rules etc. – restrictions in a way – with which architects must work. Consequently, one must maintain throughout the process a thoughtful examination of the design decisions. Architecture should prevail over the presence of so many players with such disparate interests. If a project is fixed too quickly, this does not allow for small adjustments and improvements. However, in countries such as my own, the process of design and construction happens in an another way whereby projects retain a fluidity throughout the process that allows for changes and adjustment. This difference produces a double edged situation. On one hand it provides a flexibility that is always welcome when searching for the ultimate reality that only arrives with the construction. But on the other hand it leaves the door open to discussions about prices and finishes with the builder as well as many adjustments when the user arrives.

"This means that the colour of the museum was approved but not chosen by the politicians. The colour issue, with distance given by time, seems to me to have been over magnified."

AG: The Swedish politicians seems to have been very active and have had many views – on the colour of the building, for example. Are you satisfied with the colour?

RM: I have always assumed that the architects of the City Hall, and therefore the politicians, should be informed about the progress of the work and therefore I was ready to listen to their comments about such an important issue as the colour of the museum. From the beginning, I felt that the building should not be yellow; I believe the regimented continuity given to the island by the colour yellow carries the flavour of the military occupancy and should be broken. Reddish-brown was my first choice when the roof material was thought to be copper. Then I changed the colour to grey to relate the wall masses to the new zinc roofs that were used to avoid the water pollution created by the copper. Grey seemed less exiting to the city authorities and I agreed to provide them with other alternatives. The present colour of the building was the first alternative I presented to the city authorities. This means that the colour of the museum was approved but not chosen by the politicians. The colour issue, with distance given by time, seems to me to have been over magnified.

The museum

AG: Do you think there is a conflict between the collection which demands a stable surrounding and contemporary art which can take very different forms?

RF: I believe this issue has been properly solved in the Museum. There are three clusters of rooms for the permanent collection, and in addition a magnificent space for temporary exhibitions, which can be divided in many different ways as has been proven in the opening exhibition Wounds.

AG: Contemporary art often works with the room, uses the architecture for its own purposes. How do you regard that, being an architect?

RM: The question has been implicitly answered previously. The temporary exhibition room is ready to admit and accommodate all those experiences, installations, etc., that today's artists require for their works. I also consider that the Museum should respect and pay tribute to the effort our predecessors in building up its permanent collection as well as in celebrating its beauty by adjusting the works of art to the rooms. In this way it will maintain a continuity between building and the collection which is highly appreciated by both visitors and scholars.

AG: How do you regard contemporary art? Are there any favourites of yours?

RM: I find myself able to enjoy many different attitudes towards art. In talking about the traditional avant-garde I appreciate Morandi and Giacometti as much as Klee and Léger or Matisse and Duchamp. From the recent »classics« I think of painters such as Cy Twombly or Joseph Beuys. And talking about recent artists I will tell you I enjoy walking in new York's galleries contemplating the works of artists like Bruce Nauman, Brice Marden or Kiki Smith. However, I find myself a bit uncomfortable determining favourites. Indeed, my taste is pluralistic.

"I believe I gave the Museum at Skeppsholmen what the collection and the site required."

AG: To me, the museum does not seem to want to take over but be a neutral background for the exhibitions. It is also very well adjusted to the landscape. I think one could describe it as aristocratic: it is discrete, doesn't talk too loud or interrupt anyone, and is very well »dressed«. It is well thought out and there is a lot of work done on the details and all the materials are very well chosen. It is also discrete in the way that the scale is very human. It is not a building which wants to show off and make the visitor feel like a poor cousin from the country side. Do you agree with this?

RM: Indeed, I agree with your words and I very much would like visitors and colleagues to read and understand the Museum in such a way.

AG: Is this a basic idea of yours or is this just the case with Moderna Museet, because it was the best solution in this case?

RM: After having contemplated the design of several different museums – Mérida, Thyssen, Miró, Wellesley, Houston – I am able to tell you that I did not follow an identical path in designing each project. For better or worse each Museum asks for something different. I believe I gave the Museum at Skeppsholmen what the collection and the site required.

AG: The restaurant is facing north and has a beautiful view over the sea and also has a small terrace. But will the sun reach it in the summer time?

RM: I realised how important the restaurant is for the Museum: it has been given a privileged location as it plays a social role on the island which is unusual in many other cities. I hope that the mobility of the chairs and tables allows people to catch the summer sun on the terraces. In addition, we have maintained the old small cafe of the Architectural Museum where the last rays of summer sun are guaranteed.

AG: If you could choose an exhibition for the Museum, what would it be?

RM: Happily this is something that I do not need to think about. I look forward and will wish all the best to what David Elliott decides.~