Roland Halbe

Ohio's two-decade binge on cutting-edge museum architecture (Eisenman in Columbus, Hadid in Cincinnati, Gehry and SANAA in Toledo) continued with July's ribbon cutting for the new John S. and James L. Knight Building at the Akron Art Museum. Viennese architects Coop Himmelb(l)au won the commission through a 2001 design competition limited to those who had not previously built in Ohio. The end result is the firm's first completed building in the United States. A metal-clad “Gallery Box” houses exhibition spaces much larger than those in the original museum, a converted 1899 post office. Shards of twisted, folded glass planes connect the two buildings in the “Crystal,” while a 327-foot-long, cantilevered steel canopy hovers over all three elements. ARCHITECT chatted briefly with several denizens of the Akron area to get reactions to the new building.


LEE WEBER is a security guard at the museum.
Edward Keegan LEE WEBER is a security guard at the museum.

What are people saying about the building?

People are having a tremendous experience exploring the new space. The building is a good example of form and function. It's intuitive; things flow. People use the word “ethereal.”

Visitors can't touch the art, but they can touch the building. Have you noticed them touching anything in particular?

Yeah, some of the diagonal beams. It's like a work of art housing works of art. It's so immediate and immersive. It's funny to see people run their hands down certain surfaces. Of course, we need to be careful with certain things like the [Sol] LeWitt mural.

ARNIE TUNSTALL is the museum’s registrar.
Edward Keegan ARNIE TUNSTALL is the museum’s registrar.

What do you think of the contrast between the new and the old?

I'm a real preservationist and a lover of all the old buildings downtown. I was one of the people saying, “We've got to hang onto this building.” I fell in love with Himmelb(l)au's design because they actually engage the old building. It makes the old building more alive than it has been in years.

What's the best part of the new building?

For me, the art storage. Nobody's ever going to see it, but it makes us more functional than we have been in the past.

HERBERT ZOBEL is a retired geography professor and a museum member.
Edward Keegan HERBERT ZOBEL is a retired geography professor and a museum member.

What do think about the new building?

I'm intrigued by the lines and the patterns.

Do you see any downsides to the design?

My concern is flying objects. We recently had a hailstorm with some the size of tennis balls. I'm wondering if it will bounce and slide off or will it be like a BB going into a plate glass window.

What have you noticed since first visiting the building?

The clouds moving through the sky remind me of one of the essentials of geography. You make observations minute by minute, 24 hours a day. When you're connecting things that are changing, you feel better about yourself.