An Open Invitation
Anderson Architects creates an inviting gallery for Cohan Leslie and Browne.
Jeff Hill -- Interior Design, 8/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
"So many galleries are really intimidating," says Leslie Cohan of Cohan Leslie and Browne. "It was important for us to have a space which was inviting and flowed naturally." The 3,300-sq.-ft. gallery, a former auto repair garage, occupies a stretch of west Chelsea that remains fairly undeveloped—it retains a bit of the "frontier" character that much of the neighborhood had only a few years ago. "The clients didn't want the confrontational component of most galleries, that sense of intense scrutiny as you walk in," comments architect Ross Anderson. To that end, he created an entry sequence that seems to draw gallery-goers in rather than scaring them off. "Pushing the entry back, and positioning reception discreetly to the side, establishes a more welcoming way into the gallery," he continues. "You're in before you know it." This recessed "box" is probably the most striking aspect of the overall design. By day, it draws natural light into the gallery; by night, it remains lit, glowing from within through the perforated roll-down gate.
Strict budgetary and time limitations dictated some of the design decisions. In the main gallery, three white ceiling panels float above the space, defining it visually but also serving the practical purpose of obscuring the ductwork and sprinklers. The alternation of finished and unfinished surfaces reads as a conscious choice. "We left many surfaces untouched," Anderson says. "Rough is old, smooth is new." Hence, the soffits contrast with the chaos of the ceiling above. The galvanized sheet metal of the entry and the shiny acrylic of the reception desk also offset the more unfinished elements of the gallery.
Compared to many of the behemoths that now populate Chelsea, this space is rather modest, but its proportions and the divisions of the interior make it very adaptable to different kinds of exhibitions. A freestanding wall separates the main gallery from the viewing room and project gallery. Anderson lowered the ceiling of the latter, creating an intimate space within the larger whole. "We wanted a space that would be as flexible and unobtrusive as possible," remarks Cohan. "There is no way to predict what artists will want to show, so we wanted as much freedom as possible." That the gallery has already shown painting, sculpture, photography, video, and mixed-media installations is a testament to the success of Anderson's understated, labile design.