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ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art

Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The new Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) on its harbour site in Boston combines, or fuses, several significant architectural themes. First there is the trope, initiated by Frank Lloyd Wright a century ago, of the exploded box, the parallelepiped of porous corners. Second is the modernist pursuit of the ultimate flexible container for exhibitions and art happenings, from universal spaces imagined by Mies van der Rohe to the kit-of-parts realised by Piano and Rogers at Beaubourg. Third is an evolving attention to landscape and ramped surface as witnessed at the Kunsthal, in Rotterdam, by Rem Koolhaas/OMA and the Villa VPRO, near Hilversum, by MVRDV. Fourth is the research carried out, over recent decades, by the ICA’s architects into architecture’s connection with the human body, specifically with regard to what might be termed the mechanics of observation or, even, the equipment of the voyeur. You see the building across extensive surface parking close to Downtown Boston. Its cubic form, wrapped in an upper band of vertical glass planks, is currently isolated between the massive Joseph Moakley Courthouse designed by Harry Cobb and a low-rise, vernacular restaurant. Most importantly it is perched right at the shoreline of Boston Harbour. Whereas the surrounding parking lots will in the future be developed as offices and apartments, the promenade along the harbour edge is already in place. Diller Scofidio + Renfro manipulate this timber boardwalk to carve deep into the ICA’s mass as, first, a set of grand public steps; then the floor, rear wall and ceiling of an internal auditorium; and, finally, the underside of a vast upper section of the building that projects with no visible support out towards the water. From this remarkable hovering soffit, a central patch of timber sheathing drops down to create a kind of upside-down dormer window. On a recent afternoon, the bulk of the building almost disappears against a dull maritime sky. The more observant visitor...

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