When the COVID-19 pandemic forced lockdowns across the world, cultural institutions were among the first to close their doors. In late June, the American Alliance of Museums released a stark report. According to its findings, 16 per cent of the 760 organizations polled felt there was a significant risk of permanent closure over the next 16 months. In response, institutions have leveraged their digital presence while cautiously maintaining a physical outpost and thinking through post-pandemic occupancy.
Lisbon’s Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) is one such space; it reopened in mid-June, launching a much-anticipated retrospective on Brooklyn-based studio SO-IL. To complement the show, called “Currents — Temporary Architectures by SO-IL,” director Beatrice Leanza had the firm create a new installation to house a series of ongoing public programs centred around “interrogating the role of cultural institutions in society.”
Beeline — the resulting MAAT-wide intervention — is a reimagined public route running between the waterfront entrance and a rear loading dock. At the heart of the museum, the walkway merges with an auditorium and surrounding multi-level environments comprising mezzanines and playscapes — each wrapped in the elemental geometries typical of the studio’s transient structures — that foster “clandestine” encounters. Cloaked in fabric panels, the ethereal enclosures establish borders between spaces, activities and programs while simultaneously dematerializing their thresholds, suggesting a moment of otherness where things can become something else entirely.
While Beeline is an object, it’s also a situation, says SO-IL co-founder Florian Idenburg, that “opens up the building to new perspectives” and “challenges implied hierarchies of space.” Here, as in much of SO-IL’s work, architecture is “not the end of things,” adds co-founder Jing Liu, “but a momentary coming together of ideas and materials, pregnant with new possibilities.”
Like the impermanent activations on view, whose tangents have informed larger schemes for buildings from the U.S. to South Korea, the installation is a tentative vision for future public and cultural spaces. It’s grounds for something new, for something yet to come.
Taking over the entirety of Lisbon’s MAAT, the etherial installation complements a retrospective of the American firm’s temporary work.