A place of brilliance and repose

Moshe Safdie's architectural designs seem to be turning up everywhere, from Australia to Mexico to his native Israel. During the summer his rendering of a massive Columbus Circle redevelopment project for Manhattan was prominent in the news. We had talked with him earlier -- he has offices in Boston and at nearby Harvard University as well as in Montreal and Jerusalem -- about a project well under way, the new National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, due to open to the public in 1988. As a page of the arts and the human scene, The Home Forum wondered what his idea of a museum might be. Here it is, as represented in his design statement and accompanying pictures. THE National Gallery of Canada is first and foremost a place to experience works of art -- a place of calmness and light, rooms of brilliance and repose. Natural light brings out the full richness of the art in a setting which allows for contemplation and avoids distraction.

The light in the National Gallery will not be discriminating, favoring certain rooms while avoiding others. Unlike many museums where light is restricted to the upper floor, creating second-class galleries below, in the National Gallery light will penetrate all levels.

There will be places for familiar and loved works of old, rooms custom tailored to the specific works, and there are galleries to accommodate the new and yet uncreated. These will be versatile frameworks, places to experiment and transform, places which evoke invention and exploration -- an architecture which allows the unpredictable.

The National Gallery is a living room of the city. It is a building curious about its surroundings. Within, it harbors great spaces, but by design and thanks to its pivotal site it is an inseparable part of the surrounding public places: Its skyline converses with Parliament; its south faade contains Major's Hill Park; to the west it becomes a grand terrace to Nepean Point; to the east it forms a garden by the War Museum; and to the north it merges into the cliff rising from the Ottawa River.

The National Gallery is no citadel or ivory tower. Everything about its design proclaims openness, the generosity of invitation. From a crystalline entrance pavilion by the Basilica and Sussex Drive, a ramped concourse gently leads to the Great Hall, poised above the river, overlooking the city and Parliament. One is at once in the gallery and in the city. At night and in winter, the life of the gallery -- its events and festivities -- become visible through its transparent curtain to the people of Otta wa, announcing the happenings, a giant candelabra in the heart of the city.

The National Gallery is a great institution, requiring a big building. The large museum syndrome has become familiar: too big to enjoy, a place where one gets lost, monotonous in its bureaucratic repetitiveness, a variety of ills lumped into the term ``museum fatigue.'' The failure of such big places is that they are conceived simply as big buildings, extending beyond the limits of comfortable human scale.

The National Gallery is conceived as a microcosm of the city. Like cities we love, the gallery has streets and piazzas (some enclosed with transparent covers, others open to the sky), winter and summer gardens, and identifiable buildings, each with its own entrance and special character.

The National Gallery is a working institution made up of many individuals who spend their working life devoted to scholarship and research and conservation, designing exhibitions, providing services to visitors, and disseminating art throughout Canada. Their place of work is not relegated to basements. Libraries and conservation laboratories, offices and carpentry workshops, are all designed with natural light and great views, rooms at the edge of river and park, a place to uplift the spirit and e njoy work.

The forms of the National Gallery grow out of its purpose. It is shaped by what it contains and by the materials and methods of its construction, but it also relates to the city's heritage, consciously engaging it in dialogue. In this somewhat dual quality, the National Gallery attempts to connect the past and the present and, perhaps, make a gesture toward the future.

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