Disappearing Museums are made with salt core—a biodegradable material that naturally dissolves when exposed to rain. These colossal blueprints contrast with the sturdy, integrated, and permanent structures of typical architecture. As they disappear, they invite us to rethink how we inhabit—and give shape to—the world around us.
How to Disappear
Although the Disappearing Museums touch on a number of themes, a key characteristic of the project is its focus on the deeply ephemeral and sculptural nature of infrastructure. Guaranteed to fall apart, each one embodies the inevitable decline and deterioration of the environments that we build for ourselves. These temporary structures don’t simply celebrate destruction; they give shape to the passage of time and point to both mankind’s fleeting existence and also the longevity of the natural world that surrounds it.
Indeed, the desolate wilderness of Iceland is central to the Disappearing Museums project. This expanse, which provides an extreme contrast to the urban environments for which buildings are typically designed, draws our attention to everything that isn’t there: communities, infrastructure, and architecture, for instance. The absence of such elements is even more pronounced due to the presence of the viewer, who, having traveled to one of these secluded installations, also finds themselves profoundly displaced from everyone and everything they typically depend upon.
“The ideal building has three elements; it is sturdy, useful, and beautiful.” - Vitruvius
In his De Architectura, the Roman architect Vitruvius identifies sturdiness, or durability, as one of the three key elements defining an ideal building. The Disappearing Museums project explicitly subverts this age-old human impulse to construct the indestructible by exploring not what a building can stand up to but rather what it cannot withstand.
Here, the inevitability of decline is prized rather than avoided, offering fresh perspectives on the future of architecture, as well as on some of the field’s guiding principles. As each salt core structure degrades, it takes on a symbolic function, pointing to the passing nature of our existence and everything we build to prolong it. In these ways and more, the Disappearing Museums project attempts to demonstrate the oft-overlooked role that the incomplete and the transitory play in our quest for permanency.
Freed from the Functional
At the heart of an architect’s practice lies a responsibility to both functionality and aesthetics. But what happens when the architect is freed from having to make something that serves any purpose whatsoever? Something like a colossal blueprint or sculpture, perhaps—something like a Disappearing Museum. Indeed, each of these museums, inhospitable and incomplete, is more closely aligned to our understanding of the arts than it is to design, technology, or science.
By pushing architecture toward art, the Disappearing Museums project explores the aesthetic potential of buildings, structures, and social interactions in a context freed from the rules and reflexes that govern our usual ways of thinking. In this unique, almost utopian environment, creativity is fostered, perspectives enlightened, and critical discourse encouraged.
The Disappearing Museums project offers a new, experimental space for designing and experiencing structures. The vastness of the Icelandic desert imposes few restrictions upon architects and “inhabitants,” and traditional pen-to-paper blueprints or scaled-down models are traded in for larger, more lifelike renderings.
Three-dimensional like a building yet open and unfinished like a sketch, these real life blueprints are arguably more complete, and more accessible, versions of their two-dimensional iterations. Neither material nor intangible, neither shapeless nor fully formed, they lie somewhere between a building and the idea of one. Their in-betweenness fosters the viewer’s creativity, imagination, and ideas, all heightened by the breathtaking location they occupy and the haunting impermanence of the material they are built with.
The Disappearing Museums project also functions as commentary on the history of museums and their various incarnations throughout the twenty-first 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 let go, rendering the time-honored traditions of museums essentially obsolete. Popular conceptions of what a museum can or should be are also undercut by the extreme transience, isolation, and weightlessness of these Disappearing Museums. All of this goes to show—and question–how rigid and anachronistic contemporary society’s vision of museums continues to be.
Building into the Earth
The Disappearing Museums were specifically conceived to be installations in the uninhabited Icelandic highlands. In part a nod to Iceland’s rich architectural history, this choice also allows the project to explore, and prolong, the country’s tradition of harmonious relationships between nature and built environments (like the development of grass-and-turf-covered houses, for instance). Moreover, it integrates Iceland’s powerfully unpredictable weather into the very structure of the Disappearing Museums, introducing a layer of chance into the duration and materiality of each work’s eventual decay.
Thoughts about this project appear, change, and disappear constantly. Above is a snapshot of our most recent thoughts (December 2017)
Who knows when it will finally take place? Good things take time, and we are in no hurry.
More about the project can be found in the accompanying book.