About the tschumipaviljoen


By Erik Dorsman

The Tschumi pavilion was designed by the French – Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, who resided in Paris and New York. Its realisation took place as a part of the art and architecture event What a Wonderfull World! Music Video’s in Architecture, organised by the council of Groningen in cooperation with the Groninger Museum, in 1990. With this event, it was for the first time that the Groninger Museum and the council of Groningen started an intense cooperation to explore both coherence as well as the boundaries between art, image culture, video, architecture and public space. The occasion for this event was the 950th anniversary of the city of Groningen and was held in five pavilions. Five architects who were labelled as ‘Deconstructivists’ in 1988, among whom Bernard Tschumi, were asked to do research on the image of the city and the quality of public space for the event, in an innovative and experimental way.

In line with the body of thought of the Deconstructivists, for Groningen the event was a way to explore the relationship between art, architecture, image culture and public space and also to question their mutual hierarchic position. Starting point of the pavilions was a selection of 200 video clips in 13 categories, and their presentation was to be radically different from the usual, domestic setting. It was up to the architects to create a suitable environment for a video clip on city level, instead of living room level. Moreover, the architects were asked if this commission should result in a new type of building, or if the phenomenon of the video clip could feed a totally different approach of the architecture. In short, the event was a quest for contemporary architecture that is familiar with new space scenarios and does not avoid unknown urban plans.

Tschumi and the Deconstructivists shared the approach of continuous questioning and undermining of the established architecture.

Traditional values such as harmony, unity and stability were discussed, dilemmas inherent to buildings revealed and accepted shapes were questioned. The conceptual and experimental approach of the pavilions' commission was a clear illustration of this. Tschumi was able to translate his ideas about form and function into practice and and to test the strongly experimental character of his work. From the start of his career, he has made his philosophical approach a fundamental part of his designs, while he was in search of alternative definitions of architecture. Tschumi always reasons against the architectonic ideas of his time, in search of the boundaries of this discipline, he tries to cross and to redefine them.
Critical research of the relation between form and function is the core of Tschumi's work. The fact that the pavilion is still in use, also if it's with a slightly changed programme, is remarkable. Not only has the glass gallery proven to be able to define a direct relation between the originally situated video clips, the architecture and public space; in addition, the pavilion has confirmed, as Tschumi always asserted, that architectural logic does not only depend on a programmed base, but is able to provide a place to changing urban programmes and three dimensional scenarios, on the base of its own merits. The Glass Video Gallery, as Tschumi named it himself, literally turns the classical, closed projection space for film - an extension of the living room and neon lights - inside out, to move that which usually happens in the living room, bar or foyer to the street. With this, exploring the boundaries of the pavilion leads to programming public space, as turning around definition and form of the pavilion moves to the outside that what's happening inside. Therefore, Tschumi's pavilion is most of all an urban intervention. In fact, that which happens in public space around the pavilion, is of more importance than the pavilion itself. As Tschumi defined it; "In architecture it is both about that which happens in a space as well as the space itself."

For "What a Wonderful World", the architects was offered a choice between five available locations. The Hereplein appealed to Bernard Tschumi because of its, according to him, little urban activity. With this choice he hoped to stimulate the Hereplein in becoming a lively location.

"What a Wonderful World" was an internal programme. The architects were asked to design a closed "black box". Instead of this, Tschumi designed a pavilion completely made of glass, or Video Gallery. Private behaviour of watching TV was turned into a public action. The audience that was watching the show, changed into the show itself and because of this, changed into a performing individual in the middle of the city. This made the pavilion of Bernard Tschumi a propellor of urban activity.

Tschumi aimed at designing the ultimate glass building and to go beyond Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona pavilion. In case of this pavilion, a roof construction remains when the glass walls are removed. In Bernard Tschumi's pavilion this is not the case anymore, as all parts are made of glass; the walls, the construction parts, the roof. In this way, the ultimate limits are reached, because if the glass is removed, the building will totally disappear.

If projected images or light objects are placed in the pavilion, reflection in the glass will reinforce the idea of instability even more. In this way, it becomes unclear where the walls are, where the boundaries of the building are, what is fixed and what is moving. The glass building as topos of modernism is pushed to its limits by Bernard Tschumi.

"What a World"
After the event "What a Wonderful World", the pavilions that were designed by Zaha Hadid, Coop Himmelbau and Peter Eiseman disappeared. The bus stop designed by Rem Koolhaas and the Bernard Tschumi's pavilion remained. The bus stop of Rem Koolhaas was in use, whereas for the pavilion of Bernard Tschumi, a suitable application was not found and ended up in a vacuum. In 1994, Foundation The School proposed to organise art projects in the pavilion. The OCSW provided some financial support and with additional support from the Mondriaan Foundation, the realisation of projects became continuously succesful.

These were not one sided projects that could be approached according to the old standards, but they were multiple shaped hybrid art expressions. Inherent to these projects is the use of modern and new media. Images, text and audio are simultaneously present in film, television and video. In digital productions, in which the latest media technology is applied, simultaneous use of phenomenons is reinforced. This kind of productions is in line with the ideas that Bernard Tschumi was inspired by at the time he designed the pavilion. During his construction of ideas, film theory played a major role. Ideas about space and time, split screens, colliding scenes, synchronicity, and asynchronicity are melted with architectural phenomenons.

Bernard Tschumi's metaphoric, instable architecture asks for the use of media that are instable, too. This deconstructivist type of architecture is suitable for an art form that cannot be categorised in any traditional forms. A project in the Tschumi pavilion relates to the transparent, architectonic, as well as the surrounding public space, is inside and outside, but never on the street.

Bernard Tschumi uses his architecture to transform local situations and at the same time, changes the meaning of existing locations. The facility RO (Spatial Planning) has followed this idea by means of placing the glass pavilion on the Hereplein, in 1990. As a consequence, there is no other spatial urban environment than the Hereplein in which a pavilion like this is to be found. In the middle of a public space in Groningen, temporary projects reaching a large audience can be realised in a creation of a world famous artist.


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