Reckling: Like art, new Aspen museum stirs emotions |

Reckling: Like art, new Aspen museum stirs emotions

Margaret Reckling

The landscapes in which we live are ever-changing. Most dramatic is when we decide to add man-made structures to a place where there are none or we choose to replace, or redevelop, in an already occupied spot. A good example of this is the new Aspen Art Museum, located at the corner of South Spring Street and Hyman Avenue. It has significantly altered the landscape of the downtown core, and this has made it the subject of lively public discourse.

Admittedly, I had formed my own closed-minded opinion of the new building that now seemingly looms over the east end of town. Constantly on a mission to pry my mind open and increase my knowledge in order to understand issues more clearly, I decided to educate myself on the concept of this modern building and was definitely surprised by what I learned.

I started with the architect, Shigeru Ban, winner of the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize, a native of Japan and a decidedly humble world architect. I learned that his life’s dedication to humanitarian projects sets him apart from the vast majority of architects. Ban’s work spans the globe, and he is often at the scene of natural disasters shortly after they happen. “His buildings provide shelter, community centers and spiritual places for those who have suffered tremendous loss and destruction,” the Pritzker jury declared in its decision. “When tragedy strikes, he is often there from the beginning.”

From the broad devastation left behind by typhoons, earthquakes and floods, Ban arrives on the scene to devise the easiest and most rapid methods to create shelters for people. From his innovative use of post-earthquake rubble and local materials in India and Turkey to his brilliant incorporation of paper, shipping containers and packing materials in hard-hit areas such as Christchurch, New Zealand; and Haiti and its 1.3 million homeless people, and post-disaster structures in Sri Lanka, his work has touched so many lives. In New Orleans and his homeland of Japan, Ban’s architectural genius has housed thousands of people around the world in times of despair and loss.

The Pritzker jury further states, Ban is “a committed teacher who is not only a role model for the younger generation, but also an inspiration.” The more I learned about the architect of our new museum, the more I appreciated his methodology.

With great attention to the environment, the museum was inspired by Aspen Mountain. In a refreshing inversion, the entrance is on the roof of the building. Visitors ascend upward to enjoy the only public rooftop views of the city and surrounding mountains, much like a trip to the top of the ski mountain via the gondola.

From that point, participants descend into the museum to experience art throughout its six galleries: simple rooms that are bathed in natural light that spills through the “paper cage.” The exterior paper cage not only allows plenty of natural light, it also “provides opportunities for glimpses of downtown and the mountains,” Ban is quoted as saying in Architect magazine.

This new addition to Aspen’s downtown core demands a bit of education before judgment. Like all things new to us, we have to push past our own ignorance before we form true personal opinions. This modern-art venue seems to have many qualities that make it a good fit for Aspen.

The new museum charges no admission fee, more than triples its space for art and has a black-box theater for lectures, films and performances. It serves the community with more workshops, classes and activities for all ages and will continue its popular children’s programs.

The building is also environmentally sustainable and mitigates energy consumption with its “thermos” design by placing the highest energy demanding areas in the interior core of the structure and wraps these inner areas with less demanding spaces to the outer layer of the box. It also touts solar panels and is strategically skylighted.

An interesting element of craftsmanship is the resin-infused woven paper that constitutes the exterior paper cage. The use of paper is a favorite medium for Ban.

Perhaps the clearest point of contention lies not with the architect, who was unanimously selected by the museum’s architect selection committee, but with the way in which the city granted permitting for this controversial structure. Our city officials (former Mayor Mick Ireland and his three councilmen) approved this building’s permit in 2010 behind closed doors, conveniently dodging a lawsuit while stuffing a rag in the mouth of public opinion, creating suspicion and dislike for the project from the get-go.

Aspen is an ever-changing, dynamic community that offers a big cultural punch for such a small place. Just as art evokes emotion, a change to our landscape stirs our hearts.

Margaret Reckling misses the Stube, too. But preferred its location next to Pinocchio’s in the small plaza on East Cooper Street. Comments are welcome at