Thoughts about this project appear, change, and disappear constantly. Here is a snapshot of our most recent thoughts:
WHAT ARE THE DISAPPEARING MUSEUMS?
A study in architecture, ephemerality, and locality, the Disappearing Museums project examines environments, both built and natural, through art. Essentially life-sized “drafts” of select buildings, the Disappearing Museums themselves are realized in three dimensions and unexpectedly installed in the remote Icelandic desert. These sculptural blueprints are composed of salt core, a biodegradable material that naturally dissolves when exposed to rain, and as a result, the project aims to decontextualize and re-evaluate architecture as we traditionally know and understand it. In other words, the Disappearing Museums, which are fleeting and displaced, contrast with the sturdy, integrated, and permanent structures of contemporary society. The viewer is thus asked to reflect on the importance of architecture in daily life, as well as to consider ingrained expectations for--and dependence on--such buildings and their surroundings.
Although the project touches on a number of themes, a key characteristic of the Disappearing Museums is their focus on the intrinsically ephemeral, even sculpture-like, nature of infrastructure. Guaranteed to degrade, the drafts demonstrate, albeit in sped-up fashion, the inevitable decline and eventual deterioration of the constructed environment. In this way, evolution and the passage of time are brought to the forefront; the Disappearing Museums poetically point not only to the momentariness of humanity but also to the longevity of nature.
The Disappearing Museums’ unlikely installation in the desolate wilderness of Iceland is also central to the project. An extreme contrast to the buildings’ likely urban environments, this desert locale pointedly draws attention to all that is absent, most notably: communities, infrastructure, and other buildings. The absence of these things at the installation site is further amplified by the presence of the viewer, who, having traveled to this secluded location, also finds him or herself profoundly displaced.
WHY TEMPORARY BUILDINGS?
"The ideal building has three elements; it is sturdy, useful, and beautiful."
In his paramount work, De architectura, the Roman architect Vitruvius identifies durability – or sturdiness – as one of the three key elements that define an ideal building. The Disappearing Museums project explores the longstanding human impulse to realize indestructible structures, and it explicitly subverts this very ideal. The promised decline of the three-dimensional designs upon interaction with weather is central to the project’s conception.
Here, the inevitability of atrophy is prized rather than evaded, offering fresh perspective not only on the objectives of architecture but also on its innate nature. Likewise, as the salt core degrades, the structures function symbolically, pointing to the ephemerality of human life. In these ways and more, the Disappearing Museums project attempts to demonstrate the oft-overlooked significance of the incomplete and the transitory.
WHY NON-FUNCTIONAL ARCHITECTURE?
"Architecture shares the narrative qualities of sculpture at an essential level; both transform the relationship between object and ground into a poetic expression."
Thom Mayne, founder of Morphosis Architects
A dual responsibility to both functionality and aesthetics is indeed at the heart of an architect’s practice. To further explore these qualities, and in particular the artistic elements of a building, the Disappearing Museums project renders given structures non-functional and essentially sculptural. Uninhabitable and incomplete, the Disappearing Museums are in no way utilitarian and are thus aligned more closely to our understanding of the arts than to design, technology, or science.
By thus converting architecture into art, the Disappearing Museums project explores the potential of buildings, structures, and social interaction in a context free of limitations, rules, and common thought patterns. In this unique environment, which might be considered something approaching a utopia, creativity is fostered, enlightened perspectives adapted, and critical discourse encouraged.
WHY EXTENDING THE BLUEPRINTS?
Through the means of an art installation, the Disappearing Museums project offers a new, experimental, and sensory space for designing. The limitlessness of the vast Icelandic desert imposes little restrictions, and traditional pen-to-paper blueprints or scaled-down models are, in the context of the Disappearing Museums project, traded in for more experiential and lifelike renderings.
Translated into three dimensions, yet not fully realized, these building plans are arguably more complete versions of their two-dimensional iterations, as well as more accessible to “readers” of all backgrounds. At the same time, their incomplete states continue to foster creativity, imagination, and ideas.
Neither material nor intangible, neither shapeless nor fully formed, the architect’s draft lies somewhere between a building and the idea of one. By realizing a series of blueprints in salt core, the Disappearing Museums project allows such drafts to briefly occupy a fragment of time and space.
The Disappearing Museums project functions as commentary on the history of museums and their various incarnations in the 21st century. Museums today largely sustain centuries-old values relating to the care, preservation, presentation, and interpretation of cultural artifacts and collections.
In the context of the Disappearing Museums, however, these fundamental responsibilities are released, rendering the time-honored notion of a museum essentially obsolete. Popular conceptions of a museum are also undercut by the structures’ extreme ephemerality, isolation, and weightlessness. All of this is to demonstrate – and ultimately question – the rigid, arguably anachronistic definition of a museum that continues to be accepted by contemporary society.
WHY IN ICELAND?
The Disappearing Museums project is specifically conceived as an installation for the uninhabited landscape of Iceland. In part a nod to Iceland’s rich architectural history, the project demonstrates a deep respect for the nation’s tradition of harmonious relationships between nature and the built environment (the development of grass-and-turf-covered houses comes to mind, for instance). Moreover, the project embraces the unpredictability of the Icelandic weather and the element of chance it introduces into the works’ atrophy.
On a more social and political level, the appearance--and disappearance--of the salt core installations in unspoiled nature demonstrates a harmless approach to building, a particularly striking action against today’s backdrop of global overdevelopment.Thoughts by Sandino Scheidegger & Lindsey Cash
Who knows when it will finally take place? Good things take time, and we are in no hurry.