VANISHING ACT: BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE ASIAN ART MUSEUM’S NEW PAVILION
Launching Friday 23 July, Akiko Yamazaki & Jerry Yang Pavilion is designed to host some of the world’s most conceptually progressive and technically advanced exhibitions. teamLab: Continuity sets the tone for what’s to come.
The new pavilion is the centerpiece of our comprehensive transformation of the Asian Art Museum, and the 8,500 square-foot main gallery equips the museum with unprecedented flexibility to host major travelling exhibitions, new media, and large-scale installations. As the largest continuous exhibition space in San Francisco, the main gallery allows for countless different spatial configurations; from labyrinthine journeys through multiple rooms, to expansive presentations of singular artworks.
Perhaps surprisingly for a grand launch, the gallery’s first trick will be a vanishing act; when visitors step inside the pavilion, they will enter an immersive digital world conjured by the Tokyo-based international art collective, teamLab. In this realm of motion-sensitive patterns and illuminated beings, the limits and stagecraft of architecture are nowhere to be seen.
Needless to say, an experience like Continuity requires significant structural and digital infrastructure to orchestrate, and teamLab has taken full advantage of the gallery’s spatial and technical flexibility. A vanishing act takes some work behind the scenes…
Of all teamLab’s requirements for installing an immersive exhibit, perhaps the simplest is also the most important: the need for an expansive, continuous space where they are free to make whatever they choose.
That’s the significance of a column-free gallery – without divisions or arbitrary break points, there is possibility of continuity. Working closely with the engineering team, we were able to support the structure with just two columns to the side, leaving the center of the gallery free for artists and curators to dream up new worlds and narrative journeys.
Maximized ceiling heights of 16ft further increase the perception of openness and allow for unrestricted installation of large-scale works. The height also minimizes visual distractions by removing mechanical elements from sight, and a clean aesthetic is maintained throughout; pocket doors to the entrance lobby withdraw into the walls to allow fluid sightlines and circulation, and ceiling elements are painted grey for effective concealment.
An interactive artwork that is all about flux requires an equally flexible setting for installation. The main gallery is designed to accommodate multiple exhibition configurations, and to be quickly transformed for each new experience.
We designed a kit-of-parts structural system under the floor with a series of anchor points and removable partitions, allowing the museum to efficiently construct new spaces for each exhibition. The floor itself is a concrete slab with a hard resin added to the wood top layer – that durability is important for regular reconstruction and cleaning of the exhibition space. The floor also provides a source of digital infrastructure, with access panels for power and data. This was particularly important for presenting Continuity, which required a hidden digital server room within the gallery to operate the interconnected installations.
The open ceiling is similarly performative, with flexible tracks to attach projectors and installation support, and providing access points for power and data. teamLab introduced a lot of their own components such as acoustic and visual baffles to help conceal projectors, all of which were easily accommodated by the ceiling infrastructure.
Continuity shows how lighting can shape a narrative journey. Likewise, the lighting system we designed strategically serves multiple stories. We worked with the lighting design team to produce a track layout grid with a comparatively narrow density of 3ft apart, corresponding to the structural anchors of the floor so that each potential partition can be illuminated to full effect. The lighting layout also serves to minimize perceptual distractions by obscuring the elements of the open ceiling, and sustainable LEDs were used throughout.
On entering the gallery, you’ll also notice that the lighting changes as you walk through a transitional buffer space with slightly lower ceilings. This allows your eyes to adjust as you cross the threshold from the pavilion lobby to the “black box” of the gallery. It’s also a way of acclimatizing the mind to a new spatial story – from the logistics and ticketing of the lobby, you move into a zone which invites you to try on new ways of seeing.
teamLab’s work attunes the viewer to the rhizomatic relationships which connect us all; by looking beyond the limits of physical objects in space, Continuity proposes a world where live and changeable connections become the “stuff of life”: the touchpoints by which we understand the world.
At WHY, likewise, we’ve always seen the practice of museum architecture as more than the design of physical containers for collections of objects – however eye-catching or impressive the architectural box might be. Instead, we’re interested in the ways that well-design spaces serve to guide and facilitate relationships – the invisible ties that bind people to one another, to art, and to the web of connections beyond a museum’s walls.
The gallery’s debut vanishing act is simultaneously a performance of its full powers, and we’re proud to have shaped and strategized a space which gives artists, museum staff, and visitors free rein to experiment and explore. As the most technologically advanced exhibition ever staged by the museum, Continuity sets a precedent for what’s to come: an ever-evolving approach to presenting art, making way for new visions and threads of continuity.