Huzzahs for the MCA!

The sleek and chic Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver (1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org), designed by African-born British architect David Adjaye, has won a lot of praise around here for its high style and its incredible functionality and flexibility. Now it’s starting to win awards in Adjaye’s hometown of London as well. On June 27, at the annual dinner of the Royal Institute of Architects, Adjaye will receive the RIBA International Award for design excellence in a building done outside of Great Britain. This is not Adjaye’s first RIBA prize; he has previously won for his Idea Stores, which are branch libraries, and for Rivington Place in London.

Regarding the MCA building, the RIBA jury statement reads in part: “The commission – Adjaye's first in the United States – was to design a building that was a) environmentally efficient; b) fiscally responsible (i.e. one that would come in within the tight $16.3 million budget – it did; and c) and most intriguingly, one that supports rather than defines the museum's mission. Here, clearly, is a client who is not star-struck, for all the international eminence of the architect. Maybe too many arts clients are just that, meaning that the resulting buildings are better billboards than galleries, better at advertising themselves than showing off the art inside…There is a tough materiality to these white and black cubist spaces and timber soffits that can only enhance the art. And rather than adopting a one-size fits all approach, rooms are tailored volumetrically for different media. But it is in the acceptance of light – strong mid-western light at that – that the gallery differs from most.”

Of course, there is a little confusion about U.S. geography -- after all the Midwest is typically more overcast than the west, where skies are not cloudy all day. Still, Denver didn’t need a bunch of professional aesthetes from overseas to tell us how good the MCA building is. But it sure is nice that they did. -- Michael Paglia

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