Bureau Expert: Tom Hennes - Design Bureau

Teylers Museum Haarlem, Holland

Chumley’s New York

Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipses

Islamic Museum Doha, Qatar

Katsura Rikyu Kyoto, Japan

Hudson River Park, New York

Church of the Holy SepulcherJerusalem

Anish Kapoor’s Cloud GateChicago

Bureau Expert: Tom Hennes

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Tom Hennes has spent his career designing, dreaming and conceiving of places inspired by his many far-flung travels. Design Bureau asked the distinguished designer and principal at Thinc Design to curate a list of his favorite spaces from around the world. Some are historic, some are now closed, but all are unique in their own right.

Text by Tom Hennes

Teylers Museum Haarlem, Holland

The Teylers is Holland’s oldest museum, founded in the late eighteenth century to foster the knowledge of the arts and sciences. Its collection includes scientific instruments bought and used in their time, fossils and minerals displayed in old wooden cases and an extraordinary collection of art that includes original Michelangelo sketches. To enter this small but spectacular building in the center of Haarlem is to enter an accretion of wonder that spans more than 200 years, with next to nothing between yourself and the continual unfolding of knowledge that the collection represents.

Photo courtesy of Teylers Museum

Chumley's New York

My first summer in New York, in 1979, a friend took me through a small doorway into a hidden, seemingly private courtyard and then through a stout, wooden door. Behind that door was the packed, smoky bar and restaurant that was Chumley’s, a classic Village hangout that had once been a speakeasy. I never tired of taking out-of-town guests through that same, forbidden doorway to the secret explosion of city life that it so cunningly concealed.
(Editor’s note: Chumley’s closed in 2010.)


Photo by Jeremiah's Vanishing New York

Richard Serra's Torqued Ellipses

I had seen and admired photographs of Serra’s Torqued Ellipses, but it was not until I walked through them that I comprehended them. Moving for the first time between an inner and outer wall that formed an undulating corridor, I thought the lights in the gallery were dimming. Looking up, I realized that it was my movement between walls that narrowed that seemed to dim the light. It was then that I noticed that as I moved, the curving walls undulated. These massive pieces reflected my orbits with sensuous motion. (Editor’s Note: The Torqued Ellipses series is no longer on display, but was formerly on view at the MoMA and Guggenheim.)

Islamic Museum Doha, Qatar

IM Pei’s Islamic Museum carries traces of virtually every other museum he’s designed. Yet here, the effect is strikingly different: the scale of
its rotunda space literally takes your breath away when you enter (I was by no means the only person to gasp while I was there), and the intimacy of its gallery spaces creates a space of reverie and an atmosphere of refinement that few
museums come near.

Photo by Tom Hennes

Katsura Rikyu Kyoto, Japan

I spent the summer of 1984 working on a project in Kyoto and arranged to join a tour of Katsura Imperial Villa. It contains four extraordinary teahouses from which to view the distillation of nature that is a Japanese garden. In this most constructed of natural landscapes, I was drawn into the essence of the very specific relationship embodied here between humans and their natural world. It is a silence that I carry with me to this day.

Hudson River Park, New York

Few urban projects have changed life in a city as much as the Hudson River Park on Manhattan’s West Side. Transformed from an intimidating, decrepit barrier of elevated highway and crumbling piers that kept New Yorkers away from their most beautiful river, this imperfect but revelatory ribbon of green space has extended from Battery Park to the Upper West Side, linking continuously to the older parks that extend to the northern tip of Manhattan. As each section has opened over the 20-odd years of its construction, New Yorkers have instantly occupied it, making it our own with a giddy amnesia.


Photo courtesy of Hudson River Park Trust

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

I had the good fortune of entering this place with an impishly childlike friend whose profound knowledge of the place and keen eye for the shadowy spaces of human nature enabled me to see it in all its glorious contradiction. Really a collection of churches, each of which has accreted onto the others over time and through differentiated interpretations of biblical accounts of the death and resurrection of Christ, the church is a universe of independent worlds of faith and belief, stepping past and over each other. In this labyrinthine space, I had the feeling that I was witnessing the simultaneous presence of interpenetrating universes, each unaware of the presence of the other.

Photo by Tom Hennes

Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, Chicago

I had driven past the “Bean” on many occasions before I finally had the opportunity, at night, to stop and experience it at close range. It is an object of wondrous immateriality—undeniably, objectively present and yet ephemerally, essentially subjective and insubstantial in its effect. It is, close up, nothing but reflections. And what reflections! Yourself and those around you and a city suddenly become a voluptuous, gravity-defying smile.


Photo by Patrick Pyszka

And one more...

Of all the spaces I have repeatedly visited, the one that holds me spellbound each time is an empty theatre. In my years as a lighting and set designer, I would often enter the stage before anyone else, facing the empty house and imagining the world we’d go about creating there. It had an equal magic after a performance had been taken down, the stage emptied of all except the single “ghostlight” rolled onstage to prevent people from falling into the darkened orchestra pit. Silent memories of what a collective imagination, on and off stage, had created and witnessed that day, suspended in the potential space of what would come next.

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