Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ateliér: Building the Visual Arts Studios of the 21st Century

Tony Winters, a 2014 Hudson River Fellow, practicing architect, and a familiar face at GCA on weekends, has just published a book about the design of art studios titled ATELIÉR: Building the Visual Arts Studios of the 21st Century, available on Amazon.  He talks about this unusual project in the following post:

This book started out as research for my architectural practice. Back when I first started designing art studio buildings for schools, I discovered there wasn’t a lot of published information describing the functions and requirements of this building type in a way that architects could use. When I started investigating on my own, by interviewing people who ran art schools, it became obvious pretty soon that many new studios weren’t very well designed. The users were unhappy with how the spaces functioned. They felt the designers hadn’t understood their needs or how art studios are supposed to work. That’s when I realized there might be a need for a book like this. So I set out to find the best studios and identify what made them work.
GCA cast hall at 44th Street studios, with instructor Justin Wood at the easel
Naturally, one of the studios featured in the book is GCA’s cast hall from the 44th Street studio. I was especially interested in studios designed for more traditional art practices including the academic techniques taught at GCA. We’re all aware of how many art skills and traditions were sort of lost sight of when modernism took over art education and de-emphasized drawing from life. Unfortunately, a by-product of this was that their architects lost familiarity with this type of studio design too. So I wanted to recapture that nearly lost knowledge. 

Atelier of Jacques-Louis David, 1804, drawing by Jean-Henri Cless
Best painting studio ever? Atelier of Ary Scheffer, 1830s, painting by Arie-Johannes Lamme. Rolling ceiling panel shutters the overhead skylights, controlled by pull chain hanging down at right.
Marc Dalessio studio, Florence, Italy
Then it was also a key goal of mine to describe the best contemporary methods for studio lighting, including a discussion of electric lighting from a technical point of view that is still accessible enough that artists can use it, not just engineers. Still, some of the most interesting ideas came from historical sources, from the times before electric lighting was invented. For example, in the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci wrote extensively about studio lighting in his journals. Many historic artworks illustrate daylit studios and show how they made use of drapes and movable ceiling panels to regulate the light’s direction and how tightly the beam was focused. These methods are not in keeping with current daylighting theory used by architects and therefore are little used in contemporary building design. So I’m proud the book could showcase some of these techniques once again.

Drawing Studios at Kyoto Seika University
One of the fun parts of  writing the book was the chance to visit so many different kinds of art schools. Though the book focuses on traditional painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking studios, I also investigated new media studios of several kinds. For example, Seika University has Japan’s largest school of manga comic book production and they built this wonderful new building in Kyoto to house their drawing studios. The architect was Kiyokazu Arai. My wife (who is a writer and college professor) and I travelled to art schools, and I spent time interviewing the art department deans at places like Yale, Glasgow School of Art, and Tokyo National University of Art.

Tenth Street Studio Building, New York. Architect: Richard Morris Hunt (first American architect to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris)
In addition, there is a special section on landscape painters’ studios, historical and contemporary. Here’s a photo of the Tenth Street Studio building in New York (opened in 1855) where America’s greatest painters all had studios next door to each other including Fredric Church, John F. Kensett, Sanford Gifford, Jervis McEntee, Worthington Whittredge, Winslow Homer, Albert Bierstadt and many others, all under one roof. How amazing it must have been to walk from studio to studio in those days, to follow the progress of America’s greatest landscape painters from week to week!

Erik Koeppel and Lauren Sansaricq studio, Jackson, New Hampshire
Ed Mell studio, Phoenix, Arizona
Below is the art studio building that I designed for Sewanee—The University of the South, in Tennessee.
Nabit Art Building, Sewanee, Tennessee
Sculpture Studio, Nabit Art Building
The building embodies many of the ideas I’ve learned about studio design such as combining controlled natural light with high-efficiency adjustable electric lighting fixtures.
Also, while working on the book, I had artist friends ask me for advice and cost-effective tips on designing their studios, and I kept my friends in mind while writing. Given New York real estate costs, artists often can’t afford to build their “dream studios,” though I do address the dream studio idea in the book. It turns out there is a rich history of artists who, coming into money after years of working in poverty, spend it on a dream studio that in fact winds up disrupting their whole art practice. Successful artists from Fredric Church and Albert Bierstadt to Willem DeKooning and Robert Motherwell embarked on extravagant studio projects that ran wildly over budget and corresponded with temporary or permanent downturns in the artists' productivity and success. Read the book and don't repeat their mistakes!
Glasgow School of Art, 1910, front entry. Architect: Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Glasgow School of Art, 1910. Architect: Charles Rennie Mackintosh
One last thing I’ve found is the most common mistake people make when designing studios. They leave out important “non-creative” functions because they think they don’t have room or can’t afford them, thereby wrecking the studio’s functionality. For example, places to eat and relax are often omitted. Ways to reach the wider community, like exhibit space or meeting/lecture rooms are really essential for helping a school build its base of students, patrons and collaborators. A studio building should not only accommodate visitors—it should become a major fund-raising asset for the program. Visitors should immediately feel the excitement and promise the program offers, a feeling enhanced by the building design as well as the work on the walls. There’s certainly a lot to take into account when designing this building type. I’ve found in my practice, that a well-designed art studio does a lot to enhance not only the artist’s comfort and productivity, but also helps the artist share work with friends and collectors.

About the Author
Tony Winters is an architect and painter who designs studios for artists, schools and arts organizations. His firm, Pentastudio Architecture, New York, is a professional firm focused on design for creative environments such as fine arts studios, galleries, rehearsal and performing-arts spaces. He is a landscape painter and was selected for the 2014 Hudson River Fellowship.
For more on Pentastudio Architecture see web site:
For more on Tony Winters Studio see web site:
Publication Information
ATELIÉR: Building the Visual Arts Studios of the 21st Century
Tiber & Hudson Publications
ISBN-13: 978-0692318584 ISBN-10: 0692318585


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