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Spatial and Revelatory Functions of the Guggenheim Museum

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City is uncharacteristic for the architectural landscape of the 5th Avenue, to say the least. Surrounded by strictly organized box-like buildings, the fluid form of the museum contrasts with them sharply. Its horizontal levels are not simply superimposed upon each other to create a vertically layered structure but protrude into outer space as if trying to fill it gradually. Spatial characteristics of the building signify it as a museum because of its similarity to sculpture, and the building itself is a reaction against the values of corporate capitalism manifesting in architecture.

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In terms of spatial organization, the main feature of the Guggenheim Museum is its smooth structure with horizontal levels organically flowing out of each other. Wright achieved it through the use of a cantilever – an architectural principle when one end of a structure is firmly attached, and the other “juts out over space” (Jacobus and Martin 130). Wright was able to solve the technical problems involved in the design with the use of support steel beams and due to the plasticity of concrete (Jacobus and Martin 131). The resulting shape, devoid of distinct angles, has a smooth silhouette that is quite dissimilar to the box-shaped buildings surrounding it.

The museum’s vertical form resembles a work of sculpture, with its organic flow, rather than architecture, with its “superimposition of stratified layers” governed by the crisscross structure of beams and posts (Jacobus and Martin 128). By undoubtedly being a building yet sharing more features with a statue rather than the buildings around it, the Guggenheim Museum provokes a viewer to question accepted conventions or art in general. Thus, the building’s spatial characteristics immediately signify it as a place of art – a museum.

As for the revelatory aspect of the Guggenheim Museum, the building tells much about the society of its time, although one can only access the full meaning of this revelation when viewing it in context. First of all, this context is historical – Wright designed the museum in 1943 and built-in 1957-1959 when American corporate capitalism was on the rise(Jacobus and Martin 128). Secondly, this context is geographical, as the museum stands on 5th Avenue among the neighboring rectangular buildings. Such forms – large, geometrically strict, and separated into small functional spaces – were a direct manifestation of corporate capitalism.

Rohe’s and Johnson’s Seagram Building is a prime example of such an approach, but the much smaller structures surrounding the Guggenheim Museum are quite similar to it (Jacobus and Martin 132). Consequently, the museum thrives on contract, as its smoothly flowing organic shape looks like a challenge to the box-like structure around. Moreover, the building’s layers extend outward, as if laying a claim to the surrounding space. Hence, when viewed in context, the Guggenheim Museum reveals both the triumph of corporate capitalism and the artistic reaction against its architectural manifestations.

As one can see, Wright’s design of the Guggenheim Museum serves spatial and revelatory functions at the same time. The manner in which the smoothly flowing shape of the building occupies the surrounding space makes it similar to sculpture and, thus, designates it as a place of art. The contest of the building, both historical and geographic, reveals the rise of American corporate capitalism in the mid-century and the artistic reaction against the requirements it imposed upon architecture.

Work Cited

Jacobus, Lee A., and F. David Martin. The Humanities through the Arts. 10th ed., McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 6). Spatial and Revelatory Functions of the Guggenheim Museum. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/spatial-and-revelatory-functions-of-the-guggenheim-museum/

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 6). Spatial and Revelatory Functions of the Guggenheim Museum. https://studycorgi.com/spatial-and-revelatory-functions-of-the-guggenheim-museum/

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"Spatial and Revelatory Functions of the Guggenheim Museum." StudyCorgi, 6 Jan. 2022, studycorgi.com/spatial-and-revelatory-functions-of-the-guggenheim-museum/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Spatial and Revelatory Functions of the Guggenheim Museum." January 6, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/spatial-and-revelatory-functions-of-the-guggenheim-museum/.


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StudyCorgi. "Spatial and Revelatory Functions of the Guggenheim Museum." January 6, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/spatial-and-revelatory-functions-of-the-guggenheim-museum/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Spatial and Revelatory Functions of the Guggenheim Museum." January 6, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/spatial-and-revelatory-functions-of-the-guggenheim-museum/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Spatial and Revelatory Functions of the Guggenheim Museum'. 6 January.

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