Modestly inserted behind the austere linear façade of the historic Columbia Studios, the visitor enters through a thin reflective film patterned with the triangulated tessellation that is so characteristic of the digital realm. It as if the visitor is entering a digital apparatus—the walls and floor glow with a pale blue sheen (the typical color of light in digital media), moving projections illuminate an adjacent wall, and the view forward extends deep into space, where it culminates in a horizontally framed view of the exterior garden, a space primed for event, becoming a sort of film strip that moves past the museum.
The interior itself takes form as a series of tilting planes, dramatic diagonals, and fluid ramps, recalling the architectural language of famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, if pared with the digital glow of the 21st century. Looking toward the garden, the floor lifts up to the right while the ceiling tilts down to meet it. While this unusual sectional behavior creates a futuristic, tunneling lobby space, it also allows for the cinema space to reveal itself; above the sloping ceiling awaits the stadium seating of the theater. The angle is then reflected backward toward the opposite wall in the form of projected media content. A slight reveal in the ceiling hides five digital projectors that function in unison to create a projected surface that is five times the length of a typical projection, allowing for site specific installations tailored to the specific proportions of the unusually wide projection surface. This long horizontal band of projected image reinforces the quality of being inside the digital machine, where the visitor glides past looped digital film strips that can be proportioned and arranged in infinite configurations.
The main theater space is unusually tectonic in an era where the screening room’s architectural qualities have largely disappeared, a phenomenon Peter Kubelka defines as the “invisible cinema.” Rather than surrender all attention to the art on the projection screen, Leeser’s cinema becomes an extension of the digital medium, recalling digital infrastructure in the form of large, triangulated panels that point toward the screen. The panels are fabricated out of a soft felt, in a shade of blue that is meant to create optical distancing (“Yves Klein Blue” notes Leeser). The panels surround the tiered seating like a tube, folding under the seating to funnel attention toward the screen. The space further transforms for events, offering a stage for talks and performances as well as space for an orchestra, providing the opportunity for screenings with live accompaniment.
From the garden, the triangulated tessellation motif of the theater bleeds out onto the façade, forming a super thin aluminum panel façade that explicitly recalls the geometry of the digital wire frame. Each custom panel is joined delicately to the next, hiding rain gutter joints and other infrastructure. The façade tilts gently downward, reflecting the scene of the garden like a film strip on the semi-reflective glass of the café. The subtle tilt creates a cinematic camera angle—a slightly elevated long shot—that furthers the idea of the garden as the stage of the looming cinematic moment.
Within the museum, a variety of other programs take form, including an educational facility, permanent exhibition space, temporary exhibition space, three additional screening areas, a café, and a gift shop. Each element speaks to the idea of infinite possibility, involving a large degree of elasticity and the ability to transform to accommodate different events. The educational facilities incorporate transformable classrooms, complete with sound proof curtains that help turn spaces into miniature viewing rooms at a moment’s notice. A transformative space upstairs takes the form of a long winding handicapped accessible ramp, sometimes acting as a screening room and sometimes acting as a gallery.
As a group, the varied elements of the museum come together in a somewhat literal translation of the digital medium, an approach prophesied in Anthony Vidlers’s “The Explosion of Space: Architecture and the Film Imaginary”, an analysis and critique of architectural cineplastics. Vidler found that,
“arguments over the potentialities of a ‘filmic architecture’ have hardly ceased with the gradual demise of cinema and the rise of its own ‘natural’ successors—video and digital hyperspatial imaging. That the influence of these new forms of spatial representation on architecture might be as disturbing as those observed by Le Corbusier and Mallet-Stevens is at least possible to hazard, as buildings and their spatial sequences are designed more as illustrations of implied movement, or worse, as literal fabrications of the computer’s eye view.”
While definitely borrowing from the formal language of the digital medium, Leeser’s design employs a subtly and artfulness that evades such critique. The museum looks not like a computer screen but instead exudes the understated aftertaste of the digital medium. It as if the digital image emerges from the screen of the cinema and is absorbed into the space itself.