cornell university / spring 2022 / 4 months
instructors: prof. greg keeffe + curt gambetta
instructors: prof. greg keeffe + curt gambetta
"It took hundreds of millions of years to produce the life that now inhabits the earth — eons of time in which that developing and evolving and diversifying life reached a state of adjustment and balance with its surroundings. [...] Given time — time not in years but in millennia — life adjusts, and a balance has been reached. For time is the essential ingredient; but in the modern world there is no time." - Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962
The biggest question humanity is facing now is how much time do we have left? We now find ourselves in the geological time period of the Anthropocene, defined as a new period where human activity is the largest influence on the planet’s climate and atmosphere. But we forget that climate, and time, are not exclusive to humanity. Our understanding and perception of time is tied to our bodies and how we relate to the natural world, which has been continuously altered throughout human history through technological inventions.
The museum seeks to make the visitors aware of their perception of time through the museum exhibits and the museum’s architecture. The 3 concepts of time natural, social and instantaneous) are exhibited, urging the visitor to think about where technology, societal structures and nature insert themselves into these time scales.
The building highlights differentiations between the “natural” and the “human”. What is considered nature? This is a concept that has evolved throughout the centuries, but it is evident now that nature is never independent from human influence. Since Europeans arrived, NYC has lost over 96% of its salt marsh area due to pollution, sea-level rise and invasive species. The original site boundary, previously a hard rectangular pier edge, is altered and the landscape rehabilitated into a coastal wetland that allows the visitor to perceive tidal changes throughout the day.
The building form is a reflection of A series and B series classifications of time, which are defined as A) events are relational and constantly changing in reference to each other, and B) events are ordered in fixed positions. The second floor of the building, which houses the galleries, is organized within a cartesian grid in keeping with an expression of B series time. The galleries progress through instantaneous conceptions of time (the smartphone) (seasonal, solar), to social (the clock), mechanical (the train), and finally, instantaneous (the smartphone). A series time is expressed through circular punctures through this floor that land above and below, housing spaces that are more categorized as “events” or spaces that undergo change (tidal pool, sun room, tree courtyard, cafe, gift shop).
The visitor enters at the northeast end of the site, purchasing tickets at the entry pavilions. Moving towards the building, the visitor takes the elevator up to the second floor to arrive in the exhibition hall. Representative of instantaneous time, the lifespan of the smartphone is exhibited at the start of the museum trajectory. Projections on the wall connect visitors to other museums in real time, but also reveal the atrocities behind these inventions - such as resource depletion, e-waste, and transportation pollution.
The train moves us towards social time, symbolizing the first major altering of humans' perception of time and the invention of standardized time. The exhibit will showcase the development of this technology from the steam engine to today’s bullet train engines.
The clock exhibit depicts the evolution of the division of time, ranging from ancient sundials to the atomic clock. The quantification of time was essential to the rise of the capitalist society that characterizes the anthropocene.
The final object is that of the tree, which connects the human timescale to that of nature. The term anthropocene is very human-centric, we often forget about nature’s ability to heal – and this exhibit emphasizes that our current crisis can be thought of as the urgency to save ourselves specifically, not the natural world, which will live on.
Connecting social time to natural time is the sun and tide exhibits. On the museum level, the visitor moves through the sun room, which engulfs the visitor in a single beam of light that shines through the inverted cone roof, aligned to the angle of the sun at the winter solstice. The tidal change at the site ranges 7.4ft, and this rise and fall can be experienced on the floating dock at the centre of the building. This core also serves as a secondary circulation path, allowing visitors to arrive directly from the marsh boardward below onto the walkable roof. The roof, which provides additional seating for the cafe, is littered with tree planters that puncture through the ceiling into the museum space. Additional cores puncture through the building to provide mechanical service spaces and fire stairs.
The facade of the building is made of oak wood panels, an abundant tree in New York State, and is protected by a biodegradable coating that allows the panels to weather over time. The direct alignment of the building N-S means that the weathering on each facade will evolve at different rates, due to different sun and wind exposure, eventually turning the building from a light shade to black. The louvres on the facade also follow this cartesian orientation, increasing in density as they move north up the building on the east and west facades. This allows for the required levels of light for the exhibits at the opposite ends of the building. The south facade employs an expanded, occupiable double skin, with operable vents which allow for ventilation in the warm summer months, and heating in the winter months. The extension of the louvres above the roof level is vegetated, which will eventually provide additional shading in the summer months as the vines grow and hang below the roof elevation.