In the heady days of 2004, I was a green architecture intern fresh out of school, and the first building project I worked on was this – The Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke Virginia. Having the opportunity to design with and learn from Randall Stout on an exciting, high-profile project like this was basically everything I imagined that being an architect could be. This was to be thrown into the emerging world of digital design and geometrical control (hello Rhino V3), close collaborations with players at the forefront of manufacturing complex, building-scale cnc fabrications, and the promise of architecture as a driver of transformative urban change. School couldn’t touch this. In the intervening decade I’ve learned quite a bit more about the behind the scenes maneuvering that morphed an existing regional art collection’s initial, modest desire for a few extra square feet of exhibition space into an ambitious plan to remake a town through a $90 million dollar building. The reality of the inherent impotence of a singular built object to somehow negate or transcend the complex network of entrenched and competing political, cultural, and institutional factors is something that continues to play out in cities all over the world. But those questions were irrelevant to the families I saw enjoying the “weird, but cool” free museum on a Thursday afternoon, the local artist exhibiting hyper-saturated photos of the building at Thelma’s Chicken and Waffles, or the bins of embroidered fabric decorated with the building’s distinctive profile. Basically, it was breathtaking to finally experience the building in all its divisive glory. I wish Randall were here so I could tell him all about it.
These are a few of the images I captured while in town. Presented here to amplify the building’s binary formal references as I had always imagined them in my mind. While there is no true “back” facade, there are two clearly distinct sides to the building: the angular, more constructivist facade facing the railroad tracks and industrial edge of town, and the softer, billowing blue forms facing the city which frame the Blue Ridge Mountains receding into the background.