(Opposite) Plans and section of the ONYX Centre
(Above) Interior view with staircase
(Opposite, bottom right) Exterior seen from the north
(Below) Perspective view of the site from the lake
seems surprising. During the 1960s and '70s the idea of contextualism had to do with the preservation or continuation of something positive, a way of increasing something good that was already in the surrounding environment. This certainly presupposed that there was something good that was being threatened in the first place. Here, however, the context, a true commercial/industrial wilderness, is 'foregrounded' or 'de-familiarized'. By means of the great bay window which is carved out of the facade, the V-shaped parking lot is transformed into a stage setting for a Robert Wilson opera or a James Turrell installation. Light becomes a scenographic or sculptural element to be looked at, and one finds oneself actually looking at dusk or at the dark slashed by headlamps. In turn, looking at the bay window from the parking lot, it becomes the illuminated screen of a drive-in cinema. The building itself becomes part of the spectacle it overlooks, a participant in the performance art it serves to frame.
ONYX keeps a low profile in its site. Its chief device is understatement. Amid its measureless. bearingless surroundings, it too loses any sense of scale. A gleaming black box, it reflects the void around it, sending the image of emptiness back where it came from. And like a black box. it remains enigmatic. It carries no signs. Its skin of metal grating allows only fragmentary messages to pass through from an interior where cold galvanized metallic surfaces shimmer under orange lights.
This building in a desert of urbanity and humanity makes no effort to improve the aesthetic conditions of its surroundings or to improve the human condition. Neither does it make any overt critical statement. Yet it is a work in which, as in a piece of fiction of the school of young 'dirty realist' writers, 'you hope some readers hear the whispers, catch the feints and shadows, gather the traces, sense the pressures, and that the prose tricks them into the drama, and the drama breaks their hearts' (Frederick Barthelme, New York Times Book Review. 3 April. 1988).
(Opposite) Site plan
(This page) Day and night view from the lake
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