Fredericksburg's Museum of the Pacific War

Richter Architects designed the entrance to Fredericksburg’s Museum of the Pacific War to create the illusion that you’re face-to-face with a submarine rising to the surface through a metaphoric ocean of Asian jasmine. Courtesy of Richter Architects

Not long ago, in a conversation with Charles and Dominique Inge in Granbury, Dominique mentioned Goethe’s notion that architecture is “frozen music.” Since then, I’ve wondered about that poetic definition of architecture and considered the mysterious effects, both abstract and literal, that a building’s design can exert.

Without question, an innovative building can heighten your experience. Because the most impressive public architecture typically defines places of worship or museums, that transcendent experience will be of spirituality, art, or history. Seeing a concept realized is one important incentive for museums to expand and create new experiences for visitors.

Another take on the impact of architecture came up when Jack Nokes, longtime executive director of the Texas Association of Museums, forwarded me a New York Times article about the challenging expansion of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. Jack and I had discussed this in the context of what he called his “obsession with museums and architecture.”

Louis I. Kahn’s design for the original Kimbell has been praised in every possible way. Some say it’s a perfect museum building. How can one approach the notion of expanding on perfection? Now, Renzo Piano has designed a building that will sit adjacent to the existing museum and pay homage to the original while establishing a statement on its own.

Another powerful architectural impact emanates from Philip Johnson’s marvelous Art Museum of South Texas, perched on Corpus Christi Bay. Again, there’s a more recent building (The South Texas Institute for the Arts) that aspires to complement the original. That “new” building was designed by Victor and Ricardo Legorreta of Mexico City.

But back to frozen music: the experience that a building gives you when you spend time enjoying it from either the inside or out. I felt that music at the approach to the entrance of the newly expanded National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, designed by Richter Architects of Corpus Christi.

Elizabeth Chu Richter explains, “The design of the museum is an interplay between two references of very divergent character and scale: reconciling the pedestrian and quaint character of Fredericksburg and the monumental gravitas of the Pacific Theater of WWII. The design used stone, metal, mass, form, and detail to make abstract references to the WWII-era American military, and also hold traditions of the Texas Hill Country. The conning tower artifact sits in a metaphorical sea of Asian jasmine.”

The museum architecture challenges vary, but they bring us thought-provoking environments to experience culture, history, and art.

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