The Architectural Double in the Museum City

The studio will examine the notions of the Museum City and the Architectural Double through the design of a new free-standing building for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

In the design of museums, biennials, or expositions, the planning of isolated and singular buildings often approximates a form of proto urbanism. The Museum City adopts a reverse position and postulates that the planning of a city could instead approximate the model of a museum, where buildings are curated, exhibited, and preserved within the city as if they are artifacts within a museum.

While the building of a collection necessitates an act of accumulation, the curating of the collection necessitates an act of reduction as the very basis of articulating the collection. By reducing the scope of building types to focus on cultural institutions as the anchors around which the Museum City is built, the studio will concentrate on the museum type as an urban attractor that affects and responds to its surrounding development and growth.

The concept of doubling is associated with the act of replication. Within the Museum City, the Architectural Double relies on synchronous opposites to amplify the curated artifact rather than direct duplication.

By multiplying only once, the Architectural Double is neither one nor many. It extends O.M. Ungers’ notion of the Dialectical City to the notion of coincidentia oppositorium (the unity of opposites). By perpetuating a persistent dialogue between the original and the new, issues between sameness and difference, between one type of architecture and the other, between ideological and stylistic definitions of the recent past and that of today’s, are in constant oscillation within the Architectural Double.

The studio will take the original Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago as a point of departure in designing an Architectural Double – a new building of the exact size and program as a counter point to the original on an adjacent site. As a doppelgänger of the existing building, the challenge of a new building lies in incorporating what was inarticulate or weak in the original as a component of a new coherent whole, turning it into something positive. Together, the museums form an urban diptych and becomes a singular artifact.


Designed by Josef Paul Kleihues and completed in 1996, the MCA building was conceived out of a Neo Rationalist persuasion. With a relentless and uniform building grid, the building aspired to construct an architectural dialogue that bridges between two modes of architecture represented by Schinkel’s Altes Museum on the one hand and Mies Van der Rohe’s New National Gallery on the other. Situated on a gently sloping open park space in an urban canyon, the MCA is positioned as a transverse block within the city grid and links the pedestrian thoroughfare of Michigan Avenue to Lake Michigan. Twenty years after the current institution was built, the museum’s collection and programming have outgrown their facilities and will need to double in size, requiring a new building separated from the old by a sculpture garden.

The studio will begin by conducting research on examples of the Architectural Double and studying the city of Chicago as a museum. Each student will then design a 150,000 sq ft New Museum of Art on Lake Shore Park. The new and old buildings will be separated by a sculpture garden with the exact footprint of both buildings. Throughout the semester, individual projects will be reevaluated at different stages of development.