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Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum interior
Carnegie Hill, Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States
The interior of the Guggenheim Museum, internationally recognized as among the world's great twentieth-century spaces, is contained within one of New York's most memorable and architecturally important buildings. Located on prestigious Fifth Avenue, the museum is a link in that thoroughfare's highly regarded "Museum Mile." Founded by Solomon R. Guggenheim, it is the best known of the many institutions financed by the philanthropic effor
ts of the Guggenheim family, whose wealth and subsequent social prominence were derived primarily from its worldwide mining empire. Inspired and led by the painter and art patron Hilla Rebay, Guggenheim supported many avant-garde painters of "non-objective" art by purchasing their works and, in 1937, establishing a foundation to promote art and education in art and the enlightenment of the public.
Rebay eventually convinced him to commission in 1943 America's most prominent architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to design the museum. It would became in many critics' eyes the crowning achievement of the architect's later career — manifesting his theory of an organic architecture in its inherent unity of building method, appearance, and use-- and Wright himself called the design "My Pantheon." The museum appropriately fulfills his goal of promoting a democratic society through its didactic and inspirational purposes. The museum was erected in 1956-59, its most prominent section taking on the form of a nautilus.
The spiraling cantilevered ramp and spider-web dome of the Main Gallery define a dramatic interior. Unified through ivory-colored walls and ceilings and a circular patterned terrazzo floor, this monumental skylit space is enlivened by the ever-changing quality of light and by the contrast between illumination levels in the central atrium and in the adjacent exhibition alcoves. Joining the peripheral alcoves, illuminated, in part, by ribbons of skylights, the ramp also connects to other exhibition areas: the Grand Gallery and the Thannhauser Wing. Wright's envisioned atrium, with its continuous circulation and sweeping views, and the museum's subterranean auditorium, with its geometrically-derived space and details, survive intact and continue the institution's didactic purpose.
While geometric shapes create the spatial character of this design, they are also used for details such as the lozenge- (or leaf-) shaped fountain, planters, and columns. The surprising spiraling space, with all its associations to the continuous creative force of nature, was made possible through the collaboration of innovative engineers and a resourceful builder, George N. Cohen. Completed under Solomon's nephew Harry F. Guggenheim and museum director James Johnson Sweeney, while New York reigned unchallenged as the world's cultural
capital, the museum immediately became a popular cultural magnet and remains so today. Wright's most visited building, it is that architect's only major commission in New York City.
The loggia and Vestibule
The present bookstore, originally part of the drive-through loggia, has a carpeted floor and white plastered ceiling with recessed light fixtures. The western wall is glazed with "Hope's" window sections and has a brass chair rail; the other walls are plastered and painted beige. None of the details or finishes in this space are original. The museum's vestibule is reached through the revolving doors or the adjacent paired doors; these glazed doors have aluminum frames and vertical brass handles. The circular plan of the vestibule is defined by the perimeter of its low, plastered ceiling, which is pierced by recessed light fixtures. Sets of concentric metal arcs decorate the floor, leaving space for a metal museum seal with the insignia "LET EACH MAN EXERCISE THE ART HE KNOWS. ARISTOPHANES."
The Main Gallery and Adjacent Spaces
Passing through a curved glazed wall with openings at either end and beyond the low ceiling of the vestibule, one enters the multi-story Main Gallery, unified by its speckled beige terrazzo floor embedded with a metal circular pattern, by its ivory-colored plastered walls and ceilings, and by the large glass
dame. The continuously spiraling cantilevered ramp widens as it rises.
The ramp, which bulges on the northern side appears to be coved into a lew edge wall. It is anchored at the east by continuous vertical shafts housing services and, to a lesser extent, by twelve equally-spaced concrete ribs (acting as partition walls in the gallery alcoves) which are united at the top into six hair-pin "spokes" of the dome.
The hair-pin "spokes" intersect a central circle at the summit of the dome. Each glazed area is further divided into smaller panes by metal bars.
Throughout the Main Gallery there are standardized features, such as: white elevator doors, surmounted by metal le