Sketch to Structure aims to give similar insights into the architectural process across eras and project types, using a four-part organization that is more poetic than regimented. The section entitled, Concept, displays projects in their early stages of design and documentation, whether it be Richard Neutra’s freehand graphite perspectives of the Los Angeles County Hall of Records of 1961 or Herzog & de Meuron’s conceptual sketches for the House for an Art Collector in Therwil, Switzerland, of 1985. The Collaboration section, with mid-process drawings, emphasizes the development of designs and the associated teamwork, according to accompanying text. So blueprints of Pittsburgh’s R. F. Moreland House of 1935, a colonial revival design by Brandon Smith, are included with mention of the numerous draftsmen who initialed their work on the same sheet. Here, the drawings are instructive, but the thematic connection seems tenuous.
Communication gives priority to the manner in which architects present their designs to clients, so models figure prominently. Highlights include Theodore Conrad’s model of SOM’s Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company building in Toledo from 1957 and Jakob + MacFarlane’s 3-D alumide print, the museum’s first, of the Restaurant Georges in the Pompidou in Paris. In the Case Study section, examples allow a few projects to evocatively show a few steps that would not fit in one of the other categories singularly. This is where O’Herlihy’s project is central. Other works, such as a sprawling model and an interior perspective of Tasso Katselas’s X-shaped Pittsburgh International Airport of 1991, a nod to the local audience, are on display.
These accumulated works, even with a few videos for good measure, end up being very object-oriented, so it may seem that issues such as construction process and client interaction seem to get short shrift. But this is a problem more of title than content. The original items on display (though not necessarily enlarged photos or videos) are drawn entirely from HAC’s own collections, which began with works collected and donated by Drue Heinz to establish the institution as a subsidiary of the Carnegie Museum of Art beginning in 1990. Now there are more than 5800 objects in the collections, of which several dozen are on display. About 70 percent of the current exhibition is made up of objects that have never been displayed before, and several new acquisitions are labeled as such.
The institution has engaged local neighborhoods and constituencies with locally focused exhibits over the years. The education programs, which have always been substantial, have expanded from tours and handouts to ventures into the galleries themselves. Now visitors can draw on trace paper or build with legos in the exhibitions rooms and leave their results on display in selected areas.
The goal seems to be two-fold. The collections as they are, when thoughtfully selected, can engage a general audience by teaching some fundamental issues about the processes and products of architecture. At the same time, they can delight specialists with highly refined artifacts of recent and historic architectural practice that have been their hallmark from the outset. Lorcan O’Herlihy’s documents, which are recent acquisitions, are a perfect intersection of these values of engaging both general and specialist audiences. Meanwhile, an exhibition subtitle that indicates new objects acquired and old ones revealed could helpfully clarify what is really a multifaceted and engaging show, but not quite what its title suggests.
On a related note, in early February, the Carnegie Museum of Art announced the immediate elimination of seven positions, one of which was HAC curator Tracy Myers. Myers first joined the organization in 1997 and rose through the ranks with a range of well-received exhibitions on topics including Machine Age architecture, Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, Lebbeus Woods, and more recently, architectural photography. Neither she nor the Museum offered official comment. Curator Raymund Ryan remains in his position.