The East Wing of National Gallery in DC by I.M. Pei and The Tokyo Forum by Rafael Viñoly are two classic examples of matter-of-fact contextual response through their clarity of parti. Both projects are situated on a trapezoidal site with two particular elements of reference. For the East Wing, it is the West Wing designed by John Russell Pope in the beginning of the 20th century and the diagonal boulevard from L'Enfant's master plan; for The Tokyo Forum, it is the busy and bustling JR railway and the gridded urban context. Through the murmur of the site, both projects achieved its clarity of form through its simplicity of reinterpreted geometry. Most revealing is that, Pei was one of the judges -together with Kenzo Tange, Vittorio Gregotti- who selected Viñoly's scheme through an international architectural competition. The similarity between their approach to generate an architectural form through the site is quite profound.
Two buildings from two different continents and local conditions sharing similar idea on the making of public space and formal expression. Left is the Polytechnic University Community College designed by Hong Kong firm of AD/RG, right is the Museum aan de Stroom by Neutling Riedijk Architects from Holland.
Idea for the PUCC building derives from a reinterpreted ideal of the Chinese courtyard house. Instead of having courtyard in the center, it rotates upward around the edges of the building volume. This new interpretation takes place in the high dense urban condition of Hong Kong. Peripheral courtyard thus becomes the internalized cavity that engages the public realm. While the PUCC refers to its context by making historic and typological references, the MAS engages its context in another way.
The concept of the design competition for MAS goes something like this. In a low profile city-scape of Antwerpen, there were three iconic towers that overlooks it. A tower of religion: the cathedral; a tower of power: the police central; a tower commerce: the bank headquarter, yet, none of the three offer its citizens a public access, or view from a high vantage point. While most of the other submissions attempted to "respect" the context by staying low, Neutling and Riedijk proposes the fourth tower: a tower of culture. Not only does it symbolizes the fourth order, but it pushes the idea for creating a path where the public could circulate through the building in a quarterly view up to the roof terrace without the need to purchase a ticket. A cultural building with public space that its citizens could appropriate, freely.