FOR MOST OF MY LIFE as a lover of architecture, I’ve been on the hunt for a new Tempietto. The 16th-century original, a cylindrical tomb hidden in a cramped church courtyard in Rome, is a work of miniature grandeur. With its cupola on a gallery above a balustrade over a colonnade on a plinth, the many-layered little temple distills High Renaissance sublimity into a compact package. Because of it, I’m attracted to other projects that are modest in scale and rich in experience, delights of introverted finesse. Such buildings are vanishingly rare in a contemporary city that values obviousness, generic luxury, and bigness. Today’s public architecture often takes place on a scale that would make an emperor blush; instead of enfolding humans a few at a time, giant buildings manage throngs. Instead of asking us to linger on detail, they clobber us with awe.
That quest drew me to Amant, a new arts center occupying a chain of four small buildings and two courts in an industrial pocket of East Williamsburg. I didn’t discover my new Tempietto, but I did find architecture that offers its own low-key pleasures. The campus turns inward, divided from the street by vestibules that shut chaos out and serenity in. The center is the invention of Lonti Ebers, an art collector and MoMA trustee who hankered for a place where artists from around the world could congregate in New York for a few months at a time to research, make, and show. (The Amant Foundation already operates a similar program in Siena, Italy.) For the design, she turned to SO-IL, a Brooklyn firm founded in 2008 by the married team of Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu, who have sprinkled their work across the atlas but have been more of a boutique presence in their hometown.
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