Kimball Art Center by Bjarke Ingels Group


My friend Andy Wang, formerly of Curbed San Francisco, pointed me towards this new building in Park City, Utah, by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). I thought it was particularly interesting because I have been on this corner and had thought that it was really the only significant gap in the otherwise wonderful urban fabric of Park City.

The Kimball Art Center, Park City, Utah. From http://maps.google.com.

I’m glad, first of all, that they decided to fill this underutilized public space with a building, and second of all, that its a building I think I’m going to like. I should say that I sort of wonder why I like Bjarke Ingels as an architect. A lot of his stuff is the sort of pointy architecture that looks like it wants to hurt you, a la Daniel Libeskind, who I really dislike, or is generally the sort of look-at-me starchitecture you see all over the place. That being said, Ingels stuff has a tectonic quality that I find really interesting, as is especially evident at the Mountain, probably Ingels’ most well-known project.

The Mountain, by BIG. From http://www.big.dk/projects/mtn/.

This works even better when Ingels mixes his designs with natural materials such as brick or wood. One of my favorite buildings is his Maritime Youth House, which is a series of wooden hills on the edge of the sea.

The Maritime Youth House, by BIG. From http://www.big.dk/projects/mar/.

Ingels is also a master of turning architecture into large-scale geometry, which appeals to my mathematical mind. There are many examples of this, but probably best was the Danish pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010, where he convinced the Danish government to let him borrow the Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen Harbor.

Expo 2010 Danish Pavilion, by BIG. From http://www.big.dk/projects/xpo/.

This tectonic nature, use of natural materials, and large-scale geometry are all present in the Kimball Art Center, and I really enjoy it. In addition, it actual is quite a good urban design. The base parallels Main Street, continuing the streetwall and presenting its lower gallery on the perpendicular Heber Avenue frontage.

View along Main Street. From http://www.big.dk/projects/kim/.

Meanwhile, the rotated top floor gallery terminates the vista of the east section of Heber Avenue, which hits Main Street at an angle.

The view from Heber Avenue, showing both the lower and upper galleries. From http://www.big.dk/projects/kim/.

The interlocking timbers that make up the facade are both an echo of the traditional wooden cabin construction native to the area, as well as the mining history of Park City. The building, in fact, is essentially the same height as the Silver King Coalition Mine Building that previously occupied this site until it burned down in 1982. Ingels nods to history while lending a contemporary adaptation.

The building isn’t perfect. The Main Street frontage leaves a lot to be desired. On the side farther from the building, one can enjoy the larger move of the large-scale geometry and the windows of the upper gallery, but on the side closest to the building, one would only see a blank wooden wall. The building lacks the scale of architecture elements advocated by Nikos Salingaros. I also worry about flat roofs in areas that have heavy snowfall such as this. There seems to be a structurally sound core to the building that will hold it up, but I do wonder if in twenty years the roof will begin to leak.

Bjarke Ingels’ Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, fills a major hole in the urban fabric, respects the history of the city and site, and uses a tectonic feeling, natural materials and large-scale geometry to create a very appealing solution to this site. His architecture is fun without being immature, and I hope he ends up doing more work stateside.

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About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

One Response to Kimball Art Center by Bjarke Ingels Group

  1. Karen says:

    Thanks for sharing this. The summary paragraph of your review is extremely well-written.

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