According to the myth Persephony was snatched by Hades, god of death, on a beautiful spring day while playing in a field. She was dragged to the underworld leaving her mother Demeter, goddess of agriculture miserable and totally unable to tend to the crops. A terrible drought hit the land hence a deal with Hades had to be made in order for humanity to survive. Persephony was tricked into eating pomegranate seeds from the underworld and thus she always had to come back to it. At least it was agreed that she returned for six months to her mother each year, who was so happy to see her that brought spring back. Winter returned when Persephony had to go again to the underworld.

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The descent into darkness and the emergence into light is so common in the stories of such a large number of cultures that ultimately it is recognised as a fundamental symbol of existence. It encompasses the circle of life, death and rebirth, dark phases in people’s lives, and of course the seasonal changes. Darkness is often synonymous with negative things, difficulties, endings and sorrow. Like in the Greek myth, one might be tricked into it but often it somehow seems unavoidable. While in the dark one has to keep the faith in the light in order to eventually be rewarded with well-being and joy at the end of the tunnel.

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This ancient story came to my mind when I visited Momentum, the UVA exhibit in the Curve gallery at the Barbican. Past the curtains of the entrance and after the few well lit steps was the darkness. The first impression was unsettling because I was suddenly deprived of the security of seeing and being orientated. The fog, the quasi deep-sea sounds the other visitors that unexpectedly popped-up in front of me made me feel insecure. There was a moment I thought I would run to the exit, but then the unexpected happened. I saw some people sitting along the curved wall and I was surprised. What were they exactly doing? I thought I’d try it, so I leaned on the wall and slowly slid down on it until I sat on the floor. After a couple of minutes of being amazed with how comforting it was to be there I started thinking of the elements of this orchestration. There were the lights that moved slowly back and forth. They changed from a soft-lit haze towards the ceiling and walls, to sharp blades of light that cut the thick atmosphere vertically towards the floor. It was also the non-musical soundtrack,of sonar beeps and dolphin click-sounds. Then I though, this is a womb. It is soft and comforting it is dark and cosy and all of us like identical siblings were clinging to its walls. It was not scary any more, at least not for a while.

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This exhibit has been described as hypnotic and meditative by its creators and its visitors. Even though meditation is an attempt to be aware and present which is the opposite of being hypnotised, strangely Momentum can be both. It depends on how the descent into darkness is interpreted. One can choose to see it as a game and try to catch the light in a successful selfie, or turn inwards and contemplate.

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What I did not mention before was that the myth described above was incredibly important for the ancient world. In fact rituals that commemorated it were practised for no less than 2.000 years in Greece and were attended by people from the entire known world, (at that time). They travelled from their lands to Eleusis an ancient city, not too far from Athens, in west Attica, to be initiated to the Mysteries. The importance that was given to those rituals was so grave that anyone who revealed their secrets was sentenced to death and thus the Mysteries managed to remain secret for ever. Some things are known about what happened in the dark to the initiates. Apparently they endured much in order to be initiated to the ancient cult, but ultimately they were emerged into light, changed, reborn.

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Much has changed since then but some core things remain the same. Like the descend into the darkness that some might even undertake to go through willingly, especially when the promise of light in the end is certain. What happens in the dark is always a mystery and should not be discussed much because it looses its magic. It is something each of us has to carry within when it is time to resurface to glorious light , as the memory of a process.

And what a glorious day it was when I exited the Barbican!

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The exhibition will be on until the 1st of June 2014

Barbican website here

United Visual Artists website here

Eleusinian Mysteries Wikipedia page here

I read about this exhibition by Benedict Drew in London Architecture Diary. All events advertised in this website are either architectural or somehow related to architecture. This explains my surprise when I entered Matt’s Gallery and initially could not detect the relevance. In the first room the visitors were asked to put on headphones and individually listen to the soundtrack of a video that was projected on a screen.

heads-may-roll1The room was totally white with the light equally diffused from the false ceiling which reminded me a lot of Kubrick’s 2001 Odyssey spaceship-interior. This impression was further verified by the statements projected on the screen which urge the visitor to consider the absence of an outside world.  In the room though the images of unidentified objects, elements of weird texture and dismembered limbs accompanied by digitised sounds do not exactly feel cosy or familiar either. Then one has to go through a curved corridor covered with some sort of aluminium foil.

heads-may-roll2Again a futuristic reference but an almost comedic one as the material looks cheap and it is lined with Christmas lights. After the sci-fi pseudocave one enters a large room with various different things in it: raised platforms, projections, microphones and peculiar sound installations. The sound equipment used look almost retro and the gadgets are connected in an amateur way. The dominant projection in this room is that of a man crying in what seems to be an environment without gravity as the tears stay in his eye cavities without running down his cheeks.

heads-may-roll3Under one of the platforms is an unidentifiable mass of a thing, a blob, that seems to be breathing and close to that, an anthropomorphic mop-creature that once in a while bangs a stick on a drum. There is a sadness in this room. Last but most definitely not least there is a hole in the wall (as if an explosion has occurred), which is covered with red cellophane and through it the canal outside is visible. Everything is red as if something horrible has happened, like an nuclear holocaust. I was fascinated by this incredibly simple intervention on the wall and I cannot stress how intense its effect was.

After looking at the red view of the canal everything fell into place, the connection of the exhibit to architecture as well. First of all I realised that the effect of the red view was so intense because of what had proceeded it. The disconnection from reality and the environment, the hoax of the high-tech promise, the loneliness. To my understanding the narrative of the exhibit actually comes across and makes its point through architectural terms.

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Our lives are spent in front of computers on the internet and they do unfold in a sort of a space which is virtual  with no real texture or continuity. This is no news to anyone but we choose to turn a blind eye to the negative points because of the gains in speed and availability of knowledge. In fact by now the disconnection with one another and with real environments due to technology is almost a cliché. Still I do not recall having witnessed lately an expression of this gap as immediate as the one achieved with this exhibit. Maybe this is due to the fact that space is the medium through which the story is told. This is the reason why the message of this exhibit regardless of being obvious is so powerful. Architecture and space are understood and appropriated first viscerally and then cerebrally. And as far as I am concerned the visceral and the experiential overpowers the cerebral with its ambiguity and vagueness nine times out of ten.

The exhibition will be on until the 20th of April

Benedict Drew’s website here

Matt’s Gallery website here

London Architecture Diary website here

Most architectural exhibitions display representations of buildings: drawings, models and photographs. Therefore the exhibits are accessible mostly to architects or architectural enthusiasts who can read the drawings and understand them. This is more or less what I was expecting from “Sensing Spaces” but I was pleasantly surprised. The architects who participated were asked to produce installations that visitors would walk into and explore themselves. Curiosity and excitement was what I mainly observed on people’s faces upon their entrance to each of the exhibits. There was no designated route to follow and I enjoyed being able to sit down for as long as I wanted in each of the rooms and then revisit some of them as well. The short documentary screened in one of the galleries shed more light on the actual structures. The architects who have created the exhibits present some examples of their built work and then explain how their Royal Academy installations express what they usually try to achieve with their buildings.

sensing-spaces1What I found really interesting was that the sensory aspect of the structures was deeply connected to each architect’s theory. This is often the driving force behind the creation of good architecture. Symbolisms clearly emerge from all the installations and they are evoked mostly by the use of architectural elements that refer to actual buildings. The exhibits ultimately produce spaces that one enters to experience their creator’s  image of the world. In that way all of them are good examples of architectural art. Still I believe that architecture is extremely potent because it has the ability to achieve a lot more than just to bring forth an opinion about the world. It actually has the power to address and affect people directly. Of course this particular architectural exhibit placed in a gallery as it is, becomes more conceptualised and symbolic than most realised buildings could ever be. Few installations even manage to make statements that refer to societies and politics and not only to aesthetics and design styles.

sensing-spaces2Diébédo Francis Kéré attempted to do that. Visitors are encouraged to create little structures out of colourful straws provided in the gallery and incorporate them in Kere’s installation. The backdrop for the visitors’ art works is a cave-like corridor where one has to cross and possibly interact with other people as it is quite narrow in the middle. Hence the architect’s aim is to create a sense of togetherness through collective participation in the project. Of course this can prove to be tricky in a space filled with Londoners that by definition are chaotic as a whole because of their very multi-cultural background and agendas.

Diébédo Francis Kéré installation. Find Kere Architecture website here

Diébédo Francis Kéré installation. Find Kere Architecture website here

The other installation where I felt truly aware of other people was the twig maze created by Li Xiaodong. The illuminated floor made the experience even more peculiar and enhanced what Xiaodong described as defamiliarised space. In such a space people cannot but notice one another. Encounters seem multiplied because of the absence of sense of place. I also liked Xiaodong’s explanation for the placement of the zen garden with the mirror in the middle of the installation, which incidentally I found quite psychoanalytical. He said that he put it there so that people could instantly realise what it means to be able to see, to be orientated, opposed to being disorientated as one is in a maze.

Li Xiaodong Atelier installation. Find their website here

Li Xiaodong Atelier installation. Find their website here

The Pezo von Ellrichshausen installation is one that stands out a lot with its grand scale. Powerful from afar, it gradually unfolds as one realises that it is possible to enter and climb it. This is not obvious from the beginning because most views from within the structure are restricted. Therefore people in it can not be seen from the outside and the whole thing looks like an impenetrable sculpture. Going around the base of it I found the stairs and climbed on the terrace which actually felt like a box without a lid. I cannot say that I particularly liked that feeling. I found it to be a cruel joke that reminds people who is in control: the architects. Two small holes on the wooden walls only allow views to the golden angels’ faces on the gallery’s plasterwork. And for those who decide to get down on their knees and look through an additional hole close to the floor, the room’s doorway is visible. I did not appreciate that gesture or symbolism either because it vaguely felt like a punishment. It seemed that the bold architectural statement was made so that people would remember the firm’s brand even though they felt uncomfortable. I had a similar feeling watching the architects’ interview where they seem quite taken by their own work. They speak of their choice to use a mutated neutral palette of elements but that does not necessarily mean they are humble. Their “being interested in inventing something absolutely new that will be created from scratch without any references” sounded rather pompous. Unfortunately I believe the talented young architects have missed where zen-simplicity ends and the almost totalitarian-brutalist gesture begins.

Pezo von Ellrichshausen installation. Find their website here

Pezo von Ellrichshausen installation. Find their website here

Grafton, the architectural practice from Ireland wanted to speak of light. In the video-interview they mention that good architecture does not happen often and also that light is the stuff of their orchestration. Truly, light reveals architecture. It makes the spaces viable but also appealing and sculptural. In Grafton’s installation I entered the brighter room before the dark one although I believe it was supposed to be the other way around. The volumes that have been inserted in the rooms both manipulate the light and also reveal themselves precisely because of it. Additionally it is evident that the space is not created by any partition placed on the floor but by the structures that hang from the ceiling. As Grafton mention themselves the rooftop was the site. I stayed quite a while in both rooms and found them very poetic. I thought it was interesting how people crossed the darker room and settled more in the brighter one. On the contrary I went through the bright one rather fast and sat down for a while longer in the dark room. When my eyes got used to the light I focused on the people and their reactions. How they preferred going in the middle of the space under the skylight that filtered the soft light from the ceiling.

Grafton Architects. Find their website here

Grafton Architects. Find their website here

Alvaro Siza’s installation is placed in the courtyard in front of the entrance of the exhibition. It is three yellow columns, one on the ground and the other two standing. The explanation he gave for them in the interview was that he wanted to signal the “beginning of the column”, the archetypical symbol of it. His installation is a rather minimal intervention, almost undetectable. I think that out of the architects that participated in the exhibition he is the oldest one with the most established architectural practice. His minimal aesthetic and the fact that he has no reason to strive for recognition could have been the reasons behind his choice. However it was not one of my favourites. Similar to his colleague’s Souto de Moura I found it too cerebral and detached. De Moura’s contribution was the cast-reproduction in concrete of two RA gallery doorways. The materiality of their details was stripped off and then they were placed right next to the original ones. Neither too spectacular nor with a really strong statement. At least not one that touched me.

Top photos installation by Alvaro Siza / Bottom pictures installation by Eduardo Souto de Moura

Top photos installation by Alvaro Siza / Bottom pictures installation by Eduardo Souto de Moura

Finally the last installation that I visited was by Kengo Kuma, an elegant geometric structure made of fragrant bamboo sticks. Its effect is very subtle and poetic. Even thought the structure itself cannot be entered by the visitor like most of the others but is more of a sculpture that one looks at, it manages to create space. In fact it evokes a very particular atmosphere through the way that it touches the senses. It smells beautifully and the dimmed lights at is base give a softness and a zen quietness to the structure. Weirdly most people who entered the gallery where it is placed felt the need to whisper. The one objection that I have is that this installation is not made by recognizable architectural parts and I do not see clearly the connection to architecture. However I liked it a lot, especially for its soft and gentle nature.

Kengo Kuma & Associates. Find them here

Kengo Kuma & Associates. Find them here

This exhibition is already a commercial success because of the appeal that it has on the visitors who feel they can identify with its exhibits. Still the whole experience made me wonder if architecture is somehow lost in the attempt to be seen as conceptual art. However I appreciated the accessibility of the exhibits opposed to most exhibitions that require a certain degree of education and often make people feel inadequate. As Yvonne Farrell from Grafton Architects mentions in her interview, the challenge for their practice was “how to reach people and heighten their awareness of what they see every day”. Most importantly though she said that everyone has the ability to recognize beauty when they see it.

The exhibition will be on until the 6th of April

Royal Academy’s page for Sensing Spaces here

Diébédo Francis Kéré website here

Li Xiaodong’s website here

Pezo von Ellrichshausen website here

Grafton Architects website here

Alvaro Siza website here

Eduardo Souto de Moura wikipedia page here

Kengo Kuma and Associates website here

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset Photography: Anders Sune Berg

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset          Photography: Anders Sune Berg

I did not know exactly what to expect from the Elmgreen and Dragset exhibit at the V&A. I had not heard much about it to to begin with, other than it was supposed to be the mock-up of the house of an unsuccessful architect. Generally I prefer not knowing much about art installations, films or theatre plays. I like to enter them in a tabula rasa state of no expectations. If you are like me maybe you should stop reading this post right here. Nonetheless this time my habit worked against me as I was not aware of the fact that visitors were allowed to touch things, sit on furniture and go through the paper work on display.

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset Photography: Anders Sune Berg

All Installation images courtesy of the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset      Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Upon my entrance I realised that the exhibition attendants were in character as butlers, wearing full uniforms. This, combined with my ignorance of the tactile policy of the exhibit, was the reason for my confusion when I saw a lady (who turned out to be a visitor just like me), shuffling around some papers that were spread out on a table. Judging from the attendants of the exhibition posing as servants, I actually thought she was part of the installation as well.

All Installation images courtesy of the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset      Photography: Anders Sune Berg

All Installation images courtesy of the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset      Photography: Anders Sune Berg

It was not until I was home and read some articles about what I had just seen that I realised I could have touched and poked things. Momentarily I was disappointed for not having had the full experience, but that was only my initial reaction. Thinking about it, the purpose for this quite unusual policy must have been to confuse people who are used to treat art as if it is sacred. In some ways I was quite baffled myself trying to figure out if the lady I saw was part of the whole thing or not. Another possible reason for being allowed to touch things could be to bring art down from its pedestal of high importance and make a statement about the art world’s pretentiousness that can be only matched with that of the fashion world.

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset Photography: Anders Sune Berg

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset          Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Having come across “Tomorrow” in London Architecture Diary (see here) it made sense to try to figure out the actual connection with architecture. The fact that this was supposed to be the house of an unsuccessful architect was not enough. Part of the installation is an office that looks very familiar to anyone who is involved in architecture, with scale models, sketches, hand-drawings, newspaper cut-outs etc. This hardly felt like a reason to recommend this exhibition to architects because we already know how our offices look like. The fact that architecture is an art but extremely rarely is considered so precious that one is not allowed to touch it could have been the actual connection. There is something very real about it because regardless of the fact that it might be held in high esteem, people enter it and use it. Life is not only reflected on architecture but very visibly rubs off on it as well.

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset Photography: Anders Sune Berg

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset             Photography: Anders Sune Berg

The whole experience also made me think about what does it exactly mean to be a successful architect. More than any other time in history, an architectural showbiz is flourishing. Designers who have not offered to the world much more than a certain style or as usually mentioned a “brand” are rising to rock-star-status fame. According to the press and of course the all-mighty social media these are the people who are mainly considered successful. Everyone else is a failure. In this particular case I found it extremely amusing that someone who is supposed to live in the lap of luxury is seen as unsuccessful.

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset Photography: Anders Sune Berg

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset          Photography: Anders Sune Berg

The crack across the dining table the hyper-realistic statue of the schoolboy in the fireplace (whose photograph and portrait is also featured in almost every room of the house), the mess outside of the office and the general feeling of abandonment convey a deep sadness. This sadness though combined with the luxury and the fallen glory do not evoke any sympathy to the visitor. The architect’s identity in particular is used to make the absent host look even more spoiled and obnoxious. Supposedly he had an expensive education and also comes from a wealthy family but he did not manage to become famous and now he is feeling sorry for himself. He is a lost little boy hidden in the fireplace. I believe that the majority of visitors want to just say to him “get over it mate”.

This installation stirs many feelings about the architectural profession in general and in some ways it is rather psychoanalytical. I do not believe that it does any favours to the architect who’s house we are visiting nor to any architect for that matter. I still found it very interesting and I do recommend it. It will be on until January the 2nd

Exhibitions website here

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset Photography: Anders Sune Berg

All Installation images courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset          Photography: Anders Sune Berg

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I have not been to an audio-walk before. Especially not one that is described by its creators as an operatic guided tour of the city. “And While London burns” is actually a tale of catastrophe. Blatantly anti-capitalist, it narrates what many see as a conspiracy theory: the multiple ways that capitalism is destroying London. The leading character whose footsteps we are following is sharing the story of how he met his wife and then the way their marriage ended because she decided to leave him and London altogether. The audio walk is a strange marriage itself of politically charged information about the companies that economically rule the country with a couple’s love story that at times seems a bit cheesy.

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There were many things that I loved about the walk and many that I did not regardless of the fact that ultimately I enjoyed it a lot and I would recommend it to both visitors and London’s natives. To kick off with the critique, I was not that convinced with the environmental catastrophe’s connection with the love story. I understand and applaud the intention of paralleling the city with the couple’s relationship. In some ways it helps the listener identify with it and evokes an emotional reaction. Apparently both the relationship and the city are sinking. However the way the script was written was a bit predictable. The fact that Lucy, the protagonist’s wife leaves a successful career in the city to cultivate an orchard in Cornwall does not really make her a radical. Most über-capitalists ultimately burn out and run off to the countryside where they continue their rather privileged lifestyles. Not to mention the husband’s declaration to “stay behind and love this city” which sounded quite sentimental.

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I appreciated the amount of research that was obviously put into the project but the information given on the companies although generally interesting, at times came across as didactic and patronising. Ultimately the gap between the intense anti-capitalist speeches and the love story was not really bridged. This strong dipole, in my opinion weakened the experience considerably.

Having said that, I do admit that listening to it again on a different occasion it made me think that a city like London turns us all into cynics and what in other environments seems sweet, optimistic and humane, in London is often perceived as soft, weak and fullish. There is no doubt in my mind that a city is not only about buildings and their aesthetics, it is about politics and peoples’ stories as well which combined create a complex kaleidoscopic image. However the power games that are played in London in particular are able to affect economies of entire countries hence they belong to the premium league. Attempting to convey their extreme importance in an experiential way is a genius idea but its execution is very tricky.

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There are naturally several positive things I wanted to mention about the walk. Firstly the music which along with the general atmosphere are truly haunting. There are also plenty of powerful moments in the experience. For example at Bank station where the intensity of the recording escalates and spirals in perfect synchronisation with the listener’s instructed circular frenzy. Similarly, the descent to the river towards end of the walk is excellently combined with a sense of calm acceptance of the inevitable, right before the culmination of the opera.

The walk -apart from the objections mentioned above- was very enjoyable. Going though streets that I know well without knowing where I will be taken next was like a game. Following the instructions that at times were a bit cryptic resembled a lot a treasure hunt. Every time I was sure that I was on the right path, my joy was so intense that I felt like a child. It was brilliant to look at people’s faces as they rushed in and out of their offices while I was floating in a dramatic, musical world of my own. This feeling of being an outsider observing others was somehow very poetic. Not to mention little surprises, hidden views and pathways that I never saw before and I was delighted to encounter.

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The experience left me wishing there were more audio-walks like this one (which by the way was recorded 6 or 7 years back already and could use a revision as a few things have changed since then). Lovers of cities and architecture, people who like to wonder and explore, well actually just about anyone could enjoy it. This is a wonderful art form, or rather I believe that it should be seen as one, because it truly manages to evoke emotions. The listener is directed around the city with a very specific goal. Isn’t this what almost any performance art attempts to do? What is unique about this particular medium is that the listener emerges in the experience as a performer him/herself without however feeling exposed to others. “And While London burns” is quite dramatic and certainly personal , and I guess anything described in this words is definitely worth while.

And While London Burns website here

I have always been fascinated by architectural competitions, especially the ones held for projects that will never be materialised. From their entries one can really assess the designer’s architectural abilities and also map out their politics and true motives. It is the closest an architect can get to his/her student years, when being a dreamer and not a pragmatist was the norm. Anyone who studies or has a creative profession knows that sometimes the most outrageous of ideas produce the most interesting of projects.

Top left: In the Canopy by Studio McLeod / Top right: The Gassworks by Patrick Judd and Ash Bonham / Bottom left: Reclaiming the canalside by Bethany Gale / Bottom right: Kentish Town square by Urban Projects Bureau+BBUK Landscape Architecture

Top left: In the Canopy by Studio McLeod / Top right: The Gassworks by Patrick Judd and Ash Bonham / Bottom left: Reclaiming the canalside by Bethany Gale / Bottom right: Kentish Town square by Urban Projects Bureau+BBUK Landscape Architecture

In this competition held by the RIBA, the contestants chose one area (out of some suggested ones) and then focused their intervention in whatever part of it they wanted. Each proposed neighbourhood has various places that seem to be forgotten and each project’s aim was to shed new light on them. All of the short-listed entries suggest a 180 degree turn from their original use. Aldwych station turns into a spa, where people actually bathe in the tube, old phone booths are transformed into bike repair stations and a part of the BT tower becomes a cultural centre.

Top left drawings: Bikebox by Sam Rose and Hoi Kei Lo / Bottom right drawings: An Arial View by OMMX

Top left drawings: Bikebox by Sam Rose and Hoi Kei Lo / Bottom right drawings and model: An Arial View by OMMX

Architectural studies involve coming up with schemes on how to regenerate areas and scenarios of what sort of buildings to make quite often. In fact there is so much time put into developing these scenarios during student years that one would think that entering the actual profession architects would be even slightly involved in them. This is really far from the truth. Even the biggest names in the business are presented with very precise briefs that have been developed entirely by clients, companies, strategists and governments and to which the architects have not contributed anything at all. Which means we are trained to be dreamers but we actually only execute orders. This is why I always thought that being an architect is like having studied to be a chef but instead having to wash dishes for decades. This is why most architects are not happy with their jobs even though they loved their studies. And this is also why most of us are willing to spend weeks of our precious time for a competition, even if there is next to no chance to ever win it (not to say that if won, the award would not even remotely cover the cost).

Hidden light by Threefold Architecture

Hidden light by Threefold Architecture

Another important thing that popped into mind going around the rooms of this exhibition was that regeneration is often promised in a vague, generic fashion that reminds me of politicians’ schemes that are presented to the public in order to win votes. Having the objectivity to read the intentions behind such ‘promises’ is an important skill to develop because often there are potent political motives hidden behind them. In our days regeneration usually equals gentrification. Attracting rich consumers to occupy an area is the goal, while social problems and inequalities instead of being addressed, are hidden under the proverbial carpet. Poor and marginalised people are sent away from the ‘regenerated’ area as out of sight is out of mind.

Museum of Memories by Claire Moody

Museum of Memories by Claire Moody

Some decades back, patronising or naïve as they might have been, architects were trying to face social problems, no matter how difficult or even impossible it was. In our days we are trained to forget and focus on design, beauty and generally the surface of things. It is as if designers only look into a repertoire of ‘problems’ that mostly relate to the environment and the need for more culture-related places. Thus the recipe is either to create a leisure/art space or something that addresses environmental issues via recycling and the production of biological products to hit the jackpot. Everyone will think the designer really cares. By that I do not mean that there is no need for additional public or cultural centres and I am not challenging the fact that global resources have been reduced and our health and well-being are not in danger. On the contrary. However I do believe that as citizens and as designers we should all be more sensitive towards the social impact and  politics represented by the projects that claim to regenerate the areas that allegedly need it.

Cricklewood Town Square by Spacemakers and Studio Kieren Jones

Cricklewood Town Square by Spacemakers and Studio Kieren Jones

Having said that I do not want to state which projects in this competition -according to my personal opinion- were successful in addressing actual problems creatively and which not. This is something for each person to figure out on their own after careful consideration. However I do believe strongly in the importance of competitions because somehow they open up a horizon of possibilities for architects that reality has turn into cynics. Especially this competition had a very interesting subject as cities are literally filled with forgotten spaces. Ultimately, the decision to display it in an equally forgotten space, the basement of a building as famous as the Somerset House was a brilliant one.

The basement of Somerset House where the exhibition was placed

The basement of Somerset House where the exhibition was placed

I would also like to mention some projects that stayed in my memory for various reasons. Cricklewood Town Square by Spacemakers and Studio Kieren Jones which is basically a moving kiosk that creates public space where there is none. Hidden Light by Threefold Architects, which is a series of flares indicating the Victorian technology that still remains underground of the city. The Museum of Memories by Claire Moody for its Gothic qualities and for re-introducing the necropolis. “In the Canopy” which is a tree-climbing system by Studio McLeod for its playfulness. Urban Agri-Aqua Culture by Ian and Peter Wale for its ethics even though I wish they had paid more attention to their aesthetics. And finally the Bike Box by Sam Rose and Hoi Kei Lo because something truly helpful should be done for the cyclists in this city.

Top images: Aldwych Baths by Team Growler / Bottom images: installation and drawings for Aquadocks by Studio Pink

Top images: Aldwych Baths by Team Growler /
Bottom images: installation and drawings for Aquadocks by Studio Pink

The exhibition has now ended but you can find the its website here

More information about the shortlisted projects at the RIBA website here

I am not exactly sure where I should begin on this subject. I guess by just saying that Pharrell Williams, the singer everyone knows from Daft Punk’s massive summer hit “Get lucky”, is designing a prefabricated house with Zaha Hadid.

It must have all started in 2005 when he was voted the world’s best dressed man by Esquire magazine (even though the award should probably be given to his stylist because I am sure he had one). I think that this success led him to believe that design was his true calling thus he started producing some chairs and other objects along with a clothing line. It is known that Pharrell has not received any sort of formal education in design, which might seem irrelevant to many.

Pharrell and Zaha pictures from Wikipedia

Pharrell and Zaha pictures from Wikipedia

At this point let me share with you that due to my architectural training I have a very stable hand and that I am additionally a huge fan of medical shows. Deep inside I always dreamt of being a surgeon and I have not yet given up on the hope that one day I will take a scalpel and cut someone open. According to the omnipotence of branding in our culture today, I guess going to medical school for a couple of decades could be skipped. If I were hugely famous like Pharrell is, I would be able to convince everyone that I do not have to study in order to be a good surgeon. I guess some starstruck teenager with a death wish would surely agree to let me cut into them.

This seemingly absurd analogy is not nearly as absurd as one might think. In places struck often by earthquakes like my home country Greece, architects train to be engineers as well. There are also laws that can throw us in jail if a building we design collapses, because architects do hold the lives of people who live or work in their buildings into their hands. Architectural students in most universities that I know of, go through arduous training that tests their intentions. This is done to educate them but also to strengthen their convictions and theories on which their designs are based on. This process is very psychoanalytical and most of us question ourselves and ours skills at one time or another. To be frank I think we should never stop to contemplate whether we have what it takes to make an addition to the built environment. I strongly believe that if the hint of humility that instigates this question of ethics disappears, all that we are left with is a horrible thirst for posthumous glory. Or even the vanity that architects have the power to build the world for the simple folk to live in. After all god is mentioned as the Great Architect in the bible!

Going back to Pharrell and an interview I read on his collaboration with Zaha in “Hyperbeast” (read it here), I was even more outraged to find out that he believes there is no difference between music and architecture other than the materials one uses. I cannot even find the words to express how generic and utterly naïve (I am being very kind in my choice of words) I find this quote. This statement truly does not signify anything. How can music notes be compared to bricks? I guess in a very poetic and symbolic way. But we all know that buildings that put roofs over peoples’ heads are real, not symbolic. They are as real as the food we eat, otherwise we would be fed with music.

I could go on for days but let me close by saying that Pharrell is not satisfied with designing any house (not even his own house) he dreams of. He wants to design a prefabricated house, which means a house for mass production. How about that for an illusion of grandeur? Not only he will decide on how one person lives but he actually has an opinion on how ALL people should live! And Zaha is there to facilitate his dream of producing humanity’s ultimate dwelling as I am sure she believes in him and his unique talent and not because she wants his extreme pop-stardom to rub off onto her.

And here I rest my case, having witnessed the architect’s true death. May he/she RIP

riparchit

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