Art is a basic human need. Art helps us look closer, it invites us into dialogue, it demands our attention, it challenges our beliefs, and it communicates our desires. Through art we find meaning. Our proposal for the new Dimitris Daskalopoulos Art Building at Athens College – Art Shed – seeks to celebrate art in all of its diverse forms, providing a vitally important space for both producing and experiencing art. Art Shed will be a finely tuned facility for teaching particular skills and techniques, but also an open and evolving space for experimentation that empowers students to find their own unique voice as artists. It will be a living learning space; igniting new passions, fostering contemporary exchange and debate, adapting to new futures, and providing a vibrant new cultural space for the city of Athens.
The Future of Art Education
What will art education look like in the future? Paradoxically, many of the twentieth century’s best-known teachers of art – including Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and long time CalArts professor John Baldessari – have maintained that art cannot be taught. Joseph Beuys famously proclaimed that “Everyone is an artist.” The making of art cannot be simply passed down from a teacher to a student in a linear or hierarchical way. Art thrives through exchange; between teachers and students, between art and art history, between academia and the broader world, and between the various creative disciplines. The Art Shed must therefore be open, inviting, and porous. It must put the activities it houses on display, strategically revealing the various modes of making, researching, and exhibiting art. And it must create multiple spaces for exchange; using transparency for visual communication, but also creating informal in-between spaces for social events and lounging. It will provide quiet spaces for contemplative looking and vibrant spaces for discussion. It will be ascetic and social, clean and messy, primitive and high-tech. In short the art school of the future must embrace and accommodate multiple paradoxes, revelling in its many productive frictions. The Art Shed will be both a buzzing hub of making and a collective stage for display.
Under One Roof
A single roof canopy stitches indoor and outdoor spaces together, curating a diverse mix of light levels and spatial conditions throughout the building and at different times of the day. Striated metal louvers are sized and oriented to cast shadows that break down the scale of the covered pathways, outdoor classrooms, and plazas, subtly differentiating space. This louver system continues across the roof of the classrooms, studios, and exhibition spaces, blocking direct sunlight and curating indirect daylight levels appropriate to each function. Existing and new trees are invited to extend up through the open metal lattice, uniting the building canopy with the natural canopy of the trees. Throughout the day, the patchwork of cast shadows will delicately migrate across the ground and walls, creating a perpetual connection between the building and its environment, inside and outside.
The project aims for a kind of soft iconicity. It is both contextual and unique, familiar and extraordinary. It takes the form of a shed, a primitive pitched roof common to all; immediately recognizable from a distance, and yet open, lattice-like, a bit ephemeral from up close. The form of the shed symbolizes a work in progress, an elemental structure that houses tools, something simple, something ready to be worked on and worked through.
Dirty and Clean
The project is expressed above ground as three separate buildings – two for making (one dirty and one clean) and one for displaying – each specifically designed for the program contained within. The “dirty” making spaces are the six art studios – open, tough, flexible spaces with polished concrete floors and indirect daylight, appropriate for drawing, painting, sculpting, splattering, dropping, throwing, inflating, breaking, cutting, grinding, etc. Each studio has direct access through large glass doors onto its own outdoor terrace. On nice days drawing and painting classes could move outside under the canopy of the forest, and particularly large or messy sculptures could be moved in and out easily. The studios are located adjacent to one another and stepping down the natural slope of the site so that each one has a slightly different ceiling height than the next, providing a range of room proportions appropriate to different types of studio production. Black-out shades and curtains allow for light levels to be fully controlled in each studio space. The “clean” making spaces are the dance studio, the classrooms, and the library, all with access to natural light, along with the sound recording and editing suites on the ground and semi-basement level below. These rooms have a more high-tech and refined material palette appropriate to each function – sprung/floating wood floor and mirrors in the dance studio, wood and glass bricks in the library, integrated AV/IT in the classrooms, and appropriate acoustic control in the editing suites.
Flexible Display/Flexible Futures
Art is constantly evolving and increasingly cross-disciplinary. The exhibition space therefore must be equally good at hosting a drawing or photography show as it is hosting a large multimedia installation or performance piece. Art Shed locates the auditorium and exhibition spaces adjacent to one another, creating the possibility of a single large flexible art hall when folding doors are opened, and two visually and acoustically isolated spaces when the doors are closed. Art Shed proposes an open infrastructure that can be permanently flexible for an unknowable future and responsive to variability in scale, media, technology, and the evolving needs of artists. When fully opened, the Art Shed creates a 580m2 light-, sound-, and temperature-controlled hall that can serve a variety of uses. The full extent of the hall can accommodate an audience of 400 seated or 1,500 standing. Different configurations of audience and performer, viewer and viewed, can be achieved by separating or combining the spaces in different arrangements. Power and IT tracks are integrated throughout the ceiling so that lights, speakers, and theatre rigging can be supported in a variety of configurations across the entire hall. A combined exterior and interior louvered roof system creates an exhibition space that can be filled with even indirect natural light. Black-out shades and curtains can be deployed to modulate or fully remove all natural light from the space. Integrated attachment points in the columns and floor allow for easy assembly and reconfiguration of interior display panels. Large operable doors at the end of the exhibition hall and at the top of the auditorium can be opened to allow exhibitions or performances to extend outside.
The project is open and porous. It invites the surrounding landscape in and through the building, conflating indoors and outdoors, and creating a continuous learning ground. The studios, classrooms, library, auditorium, and exhibition space all have large doors that open directly to exterior gardens and terraces, creating genuinely indoor/outdoor learning environments. The existing slope of the site is extended like a green carpet through the center and around the outside of the building. In this way natural daylight, views to the surrounding landscape, and fresh air are always available, often from two or more directions in every room. A variety of exterior classroom, exhibition, and event spaces are loosely articulated across the site, through the massing of the buildings and the shading of the canopy above. Adjacent to the row of studios is an open outdoor classroom with terraces for seating, and a natural and architectural canopy overhead. A generous 6m wide outdoor alley, or central stoa – outdoor, but covered from the rain – cuts through the middle of the project, making the primary circulation spine in the landscape, tree-lined with permeable pavers, soil, and vegetation thriving in the heart of the building. Event and exhibition plazas are created under the porous eaves of the shed at the upper and lower entrances, further blurring the boundary between inside and outside. The existing trees on and adjacent to the site are protected and incorporated into the new design, at times popping up through the louvers of the open roof trellis. New native trees, bushes, and grasses are introduced throughout the project, extending the ecosystem of the surrounding campus forest in and through the site. The existing stone wall that retains the earth adjacent to the sports courts is simply shifted north east and recreated with similar local stones, creating an accessible ramped and terraced landscape between the new building and the courts.
Campus in a Campus
The project is organized and generated as an extension of the existing Athens College campus. It borrows the most successful attributes of the current campus – individual buildings with strong identities in a beautiful natural landscape – and replicates them at the scale of the Art Shed site. The school is unique for its connection with nature. Multiple times a day, in between classes and during breaks, students and teachers cross through tree-lined paths and meet up in gardens across the campus. This unique identity is recreated at a smaller scale within the Art Shed project. Moving from a drawing studio to the library to an art history class to a video exhibition, students will pass outside between each class, taking a breath of fresh air, standing beneath the shade of a tree – experiencing a kind of nature palette cleanser between each course of their daily academic meal.