The Revered Architect Turns Set Designer for Bard's Latest Tour de Force
For New York’s debut production of Richard Strauss’s 1940 opera Die Liebe der Danae, Uruguayan starchitect Rafael Viñoly turned his vanguard eye to set design, teaming up with stage artist Mimi Lien to create a trompe l’oeil Manhattan cityscape that shape-shifts from scene to scene. “The stage is a collage of images, moving as if it is some kind of magic lantern,” says Viñoly, whose architectural achievements include the Tokyo International Forum, an ultra-modern steel edifice with a soaring ship-shaped roof, and the striking Kimmel Center, where a vaulted glass atrium serves as home to the Philadelphia Orchestra. Directed by Kevin Newbury, Strauss’s Greek mythology–inspired romantic comedy will be performed at Bard College, and marks Viñoly’s second collaboration with the esteemed drama school, following on from its 2004 production of Shostakovich’s The Nose. As a one-time aspiring concert pianist, the architect drew on his musical background for the project. “Understanding music is a requirement for set design—not technically, but intellectually,” he says. “You have to relate to the music as an observer and a listener.” We spoke to Viñoly about his creative philosophy.
What is appealing to you about set design as opposed to architecture?
Designing sets is an interesting field because you’re dealing with ideas that are only suggested—you’re not dealing with the requirements needed for an architectural space. Set design conjures up images from the music, and is itself another distraction too. It’s an illusion.
What is your architectural mantra?
What interests me in architecture is the ability to change the brief, acting on something that is conventional.
Are there any buildings that you think should not have been built?
You see shifts in public perception all the time. People used to hate 50s modernism and now it is being listed and protected. But there is a lot to be said of the mistakes of the 1960s: when you see those buildings, the reasons for their failure are obvious. Architecture must function at a social level: a building is not just about the inhabitant, but the way it is seen by people on the street. It’s the only media you can’t turn off. You don’t have to look at art, or listen to music, or watch television, but architecture is always there, and many people misunderstand the responsibility it encompasses.
In your opinion, what is the greatest building ever built?
It hasn’t been built yet, in my opinion. I designed a small airport [the Carasco International Airport] and for me that was my best. I like projects that address the relationship between a city and its geography.