The Parrish Art Museum by Herzog & de Meuron cuts a strong image: two conjoined pitched roofs extruded to an unusual length, set picturesquely in a field. Approached obliquely along Montauk Highway in Southampton, New York, it appears as a jarring abstraction. It would be hard not to agree with Jacques Herzog that the Parrish is more "in the tradition of landforms" than of contemporary architecture. In fact its straightforward image has led some commentators who have not visited the building to believe that the project is entirely simplistic, and to assume it doesn't merit a second look. The way the Parrish both allows and then overturns superficial first impressions— which certainly happens when it is visited in person — is among its most striking accomplishments. As Herzog has said in conversation, the Parrish initially "appears to be a readymade" — an iconic vernacular form enlisted in the service of architecture.
But Herzog's view is that even if images of the building "raise the question, 'Is it a readymade?'", visiting the building will "provide the answer: 'No, I am not'". In this way the Parrish "questions the overly iconic buildings made for magazines that are just about form". Even more remarkable is that — despite Herzog's scepticism of how architecture meets print — the same overturning of expectations happens through a good look at the building's plans.
Of course approaching a building through media requires a type of detective work, a close reading of photographs, plans, sections, etc., that, for some buildings, is more effort than it's worth — and so it should be no surprise that many people won't try if they aren't properly drawn in. The Parrish does little to provide a transition from the building's overall image to an appreciation of the organisation of its interior spaces. It lacks, for example, the material "hook" of the rubble walls of the Dominus Winery (another long, low box), which draw the magazine reader to the details of the facade and inwards to their consequences for the interior.
The Parrish Art Museum combines a readymade roof and finely crafted spatial episodes underneath
This surprise happens in person, to be sure. But it is doubly surprising to see it happening in a magazine, in a building's plans — and this is where the Parrish really succeeds. Matthew Allen, architect and writer