SHoP Architects

An expansion for SITE Santa Fe, a leading contemporary art center for the Southwest, follows one of the worst recent trends in architecture.

Does this building look familiar to you?

It’s SHoP Architects’ design for an expansion of SITE Santa Fe, one of the most prestigious contemporary art centers in the Southwest. The project, which is being planned for 2017, will give 36,000 square feet to SITE for galleries and project space.

It’s also a retread of one of the worst design trends in recent architecture: the Wedge. At least three major design firms have completed or introduced peekaboo wedge projects over the past year or so. It looks as though architects aren’t quite done lifting the corners of buildings in 2015.

The most prominent wedge out there is The Broad, designed for Los Angeles by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The museum, which opened in September, has been treated to mostly favorable reviews. L.A. residents (and The Guardian’s Olly Wainwright) have taken to calling it a “cheese grater,” but the most influential aspect of the building may be the way its corrugated façade lifts over the entrance, as if it were a theater curtain.

The Broad, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. (DS+R)

The Broad was the first one out of the gate. Other Wedges haven’t been completed yet, including a green innovation factory for Progetto Manifattura, designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates. It’s slated to be finished by 2018, according to the firm’s website, even though the design may have preceded the Wedge by DS+R by several years. (Kengo Kuma began working with Progetto Manifattura in 2009, per the project description; DS+R unveiled the design for The Broad late in 2014.)   

Progetto Manifattura Green Innovation Factory, designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates. (Kengo Kuma)

Still, another Wedge was never meant to be.

The Bjarke Ingels Group produced two designs for the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah. The first proposal, an award-winning design that featured a building twisting around its vertical axis, failed to win approval with leaders in Park City. Even though the building paid tribute to the city’s mining history—the design called for a tower of stacked timber, made with reclaimed railroad ties—residents feared that it would reduce their property values. (An art museum!)

“It was an abstraction of a log cabin spinning out of control,” wrote Architect’s Aaron Betsky, praising the early version. Having seen its first draft shot to pieces, BIG went back to the drawing board. The firm’s second proposal for the Kimball was a Wedge.

The Kimball Art Center design by Bjarke Ingels Group. (BIG)

This design didn’t fare any better: The Park City government decided that even take two didn’t meet its strict historic preservation guidelines. Still, it’s telling that BIG went with the Wedge. Faced down by NIMBYism so aggressive that residents said “there goes the neighborhood” about an art museum, BIG went with the safest possible choice. (And still lost. But that’s a different story.)

There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the Wedge in principal, or with SHoP’s design in particular. But SITE Santa Fe has served as a leading contemporary-art institution since 1995, one that breathed new life into the biennial format for showing art at a time when it seemed tired. One word comes to mind with a first look at the new design for SITE Sante Fe: safe.

SITE Santa Fe expansion, designed by SHoP Architects (SHoP)
SITE Santa Fe expansion, designed by SHoP Architects (SHoP)

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