Navigating Big Bambu at the Met
Note: You can view an extensive photo gallery of the Big Bambú installation below. Also, I realize this entry strays a bit from the musical focus of the blog, but composers should augment a well-trained ear with a keen eye. Or so I like to think.
Since March 1st, Doug and Mike Starn have lead a team of rock climbers in constructing a large bamboo installation on the roof of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Entitled Big Bambú: You Can't, You Won't and You Don't Stop, the structure is 100 feet long X 50 feet wide and roughly 50 feet tall. Visitors can take a tour that winds through the installation along a looping path reminiscent of a rickety roller coaster.
Of particular interest is the limited external visual space. The structure consumes the vast majority of the rooftop. There is a small area where visitors can view one side of the installation (see photo at right). Visitors can also move freely amongst the larger, load-bearing bamboo poles underneath, revealing an "eye" at the structure's center.
The limitations placed upon the viewer's perspective may be the most direct and successful connection between Big Bambú and the surrounding urban environment. In a city like New York, a person is rarely afforded an unobstructed, 360 degree view of a building. One can, however, go inside and ascend to various heights, altering one's perceptions of the internal and external surroundings.
The architectural qualities of Big Bambú bring to mind Richard Serra's works. I recall walking into the center of one of Serra's Torqued Torus Inversions and feeling like I was in some sort of sacred space. The structural character of Big Bambú is a bit more akin to an elaborate tree house, albeit one with an incredible view.
But Serra is more successful than the Starn brothers at blurring the line between sculpture and architecture. In my opinion this can be attributed to Serra's choice of steel and, more importantly, the way he uses it. Steel easily evokes a sense of architecture given its many applications in constructing buildings, bridges and other large structures. Serra, however, shapes the steel in such a way that it takes on a malleable, sculpted quality. This effect deepens the dramatic impact of his works.
As a material, bamboo presents an interesting situation in that it is malleable and, like steel, has real-world architectural associations. In my opinion, Big Bambú fails to transcend these associations because its proportions are too small. Fifty feet sounds high, but it doesn't look so tall when placed in the vicinity of skyscrapers. Imagine if the Starn brothers kept building for two years until a Brancusi-like "endless column" of bamboo erupted from the roof of the Met, extending far above the Central Park tree tops. Now that would dramatically expand our ideas about bamboo.