by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
Architects Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu, founders of SO-IL, have designed Amant, a performing arts centre in an industrial neighbourhood of Brooklyn, the city where their practice is based. Internationally reputed for their illustrious portfolio of works, the firm works across a range of disciplines and scales of projects, covering social housing, urban installations, workspaces, art galleries, and fashion showrooms. Amant was realised with the underlying philosophy that since art is at the centre of these buildings, it demands less 'decoration' and more focus on the spatial and tectonic parameters, a guiding ethos that reflects in various other art spaces conceived by them including the Maujer Gallery in Brooklyn, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Shanghai, and Kukje Gallery K3 in Seoul.
Located in North Brooklyn, Amant stands out for its introspective outer expression and a contrarian internal programme that brings artists, visitors, and the community together. Designed as three blocks on a 1670sqm site on which two buildings sit on one side of the street, and one across the road, the buildings manifest the idea of "an urban oasis where the pace of art-making can slow down to allow experimentation and meaningful reflection". Spaces within the three volumes house art studios, galleries, offices, a performance zone, and a café.
According to SO-IL, a key focus in the design scheme was on the interaction of the context with the built form. "Rather than isolating from their urban context, the distributed volumes weave through the fabric of the city," says the design team. In between the volumes, pockets of landscape with many entry points enable the connections between people and the context. "Courtyards and thoroughfares," SO-IL continues, "dart through and between existing buildings, moving visitors past more private spaces at the periphery to centrally located galleries and exhibitions." The fact that our increasingly digital world is pulling us indoors, the architecture of Amant presents the necessary connections for outdoor engagement.
The building's façade features muted materiality with dual tactility – the lower segment is exposed concrete, and the larger upper face is a deeply textured cast-in-place concrete. The façade is clear of any windows except for a small amorphous opening which is punctured on the lower surface. The walls become even more textured and detailed as one enters into the facility. Inside 'bricks' appear on surfaces, which as per SO-IL, rotate out of plane to catch shadows. "Materials render the buildings partly anonymous,” adds SO-IL.
Designed to be flexible and collaborative, the interiors feature large uncluttered spaces with white surfaces. A focus on eclectic tactility continues at a few places including the passageways and meeting zones. Inside the main gallery, a circular cubicle sits at one end of the space for programming and monitoring arrangements and a fixed seating block on the other. The rest of the space is expansive enough for exhibitions and art events. Other galleries too display a similar scheme. A particular element is how lighting (artificial and daylight) is experimented with in these spaces in the form of skylights, clerestories, and a defined system of spot lights.
SO-IL's philosophy of practice that says architecture is a material practice as well as cultural one sees a harmonious alignment in Amant. Speaking of uniting the built form with its functionality, the design team concludes, "The porous campus remains flexible to curation, facilitating diverse, technically demanding programming on large to intimate scales for local and international artists across disciplines. […] Each building nestles comfortably within its industrial context, offering surprising tactility, detail, and depth up close that betrays the familiar and the everyday.”