Venerated architect Yann Weymouth’s career spans more than four decades and includes projects in North America and Europe. A Harvard and MIT graduate, he has successfully led design teams on large-scale projects for the most important international firms such as I.M. Pei and Partners, Arup and most recently HOK. In 1983, Weymouth worked with I.M. Pei as his Chief of Design for the Grand Louvre Project in Paris (and much more). Mr. Weymouth spoke with Surface & Panel about his latest project, The Dali Museum.
S&P: How do you indicate that this is not your normal museum?
YW: None of the galleries are on the main level. You have to go 30 feet higher, so that led to the need for a beautiful skylight with daylight floating in from above and a spiral stair that is practical, but it is also indicative. It says, “Climb me. This is the way up.”
We are on a great site on the bay of the St. Petersburg waterfront with great views. So that meant gigantic bay windows and a balcony. That led to the glass structure that is based on Buckminster Fuller’s early work in the last century. He is a hero of mine and many architects, and he was a friend of Salvador Dali’s. So that led to using Buckminster Fuller’s work, but taking it into the 21st century required not keeping it contained to a spherical structure. All of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes had to be spherical in their time. But being able to warp it and morph it in order to enlarge the dome makes the store bigger and gives more light to the shop windows. It tempts people to come in to see the view.
The pop-up roof gives a sense of light and volume and excitement when you are in the atrium, so the building ended up being really two things. The concrete box, which is very masculine, tough and raw. It’s very geometric and rational. And then this somewhat more naturalistic, almost irrational form of the glass. We called it the enigma because it bursts out of the box and disrupts it.
S&P: You have been an architect for quite awhile. How have things changed and how do you stay up-to-date on new materials and techniques?
YW: I am curious. I get excited. When I was a child, I read tons of science fiction. We’re living in the future right now, and we’re living in the most amazing age of things, and it is moving so fast. It is fascinating. I understand your interest in manufactured materials; we used a lot of them on the project. There are new materials, new technologies, new ways of drawing. I am drawing with pen and pencil and ink and watercolor and computer and 3D. I am fascinated with 3D modeling and prototyping. They are terrific, and one can do extraordinary things with them. For The Dail design, we could not have done it even 10 years ago. The BIM technologies we use allowed us to model things in 3D and compute their behavior. There are 1,062 different triangular pieces of glass in the enigma and the igloo, and not one is identical to any other in size or shape, and they were all made by robots and tracked by barcode.
S&P: What is next?
YW: I’ve started working on the University of Miami Frost School of Music. It is a small campus inside a larger campus. The music school is right on the lake. Gorgeous. It is a very interesting project for 21st century music making.
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