20 Fenchurch Street Tower or Walkie Talkie as it is usually referred as is not far from where I live. I watched it go up slowly for years and I never particularly liked it. To be more accurate I actually always disliked it. Every time I cycle west down Whitechapel Road it dominates the skyline totally filling up the horizon.

20 Fenchurch building seen by Whitechapel street and Algate East. Dominating the horizon

20 Fenchurch building seen by Whitechapel Road and Algate East. Dominating the horizon

As it was being built I realised that it was flaring up the taller it became. For a little while I appreciated its geometry and was rather intrigued by the potentially interesting engineering calculations it required. However when I came across the drawing of the original idea and saw how much taller it was supposed to be it occurred to me that there was something wrong with its proportions. Proportions determine a building’s scale hence are extremely important.

The Walkie Talkie hovering over the street

The Walkie Talkie hovering over the street

Therefore if a building is ultimately constructed shorter and wider than its original design, it shows. And this is just one of the conclusions that one comes to by examining Walkie Talkie superficially, as a sculptural object. Something which I always find secondary in critiquing a high-rise.

Going up to the higher part of the "garden"

Going up to the higher part of the “garden”

Researching a bit the building’s Skygarden I discovered that it was not part of the original concept. The tower which is not situated in the part of the City where all the other high-rises are, was at first denied planning permission. The case was eventually reviewed and permission was granted because the architect pledged to give the top floor to the public. A smart and cheeky move. I am usually put off by investors’ justifications. Especially when they advertise their generosity which is often a calculated move in order to get their way.

Another interesting fact about Walkie Talkie is that the true reason for the building getting larger in plan towards the top, had nothing to do with creativity and architectural inspiration. It was mainly a smart idea in order to increase the rentable floor space of the upper floors where it is considerably more expensive. The skygarden was the idea that helped the project go through but profit was again in the heart of that decision. A large part of the top floor’s space is occupied by private restaurants.

The restaurants dividing the "garden" in half. Bulky and disproportionate volumes

The restaurants dividing the “garden” in half. Bulky and disproportionate volumes

The garden is divided in half by the bulky volume of the restaurants and is reduced to two sloping areas where the plants are placed. The sitting areas are basically a couple of small seats in the middle of these slopes. In case they are found empty, they are impossible to enjoy as they are constantly coveted by the hundreds of visitors.

The very few sitting areas cannot really be enjoyed by anyone. A fact that beats the whole purpose of naming the place "Skygarden"

The very few sitting areas cannot really be enjoyed by anyone. A fact that beats the whole purpose of naming the place “Skygarden”

Places like this, especially when there is a deadline in the time that one is allowed to stay there, make relaxing there extremely difficult. Ultimately this is a space to be consumed. It exists to go see and maybe take a selfie at, in order to be able to say, “been there done that”.

Of course there is the view, which is undeniable. Any 360 view from a high building is always fascinating. Even from this particular building which most people find rather ugly. The proportions are wrong the detailing is wrong, it feels clumsy and crude and somehow pretentious.

The building is rather crudely detailed. Lacks elegance but offers some good views

The building is rather crudely detailed. Lacks elegance but offers some good views

And to top all that, it melted a couple of cars and set the carpet of a shop across the street on fire with the beam of sunlight that was reflected off it before its brise-soleil panels were installed. Later on its architect Rafael Viñoly stated that he remembered London less sunny which to say the least seems like a ridiculous excuse for the poorly thought out implications of the building’s geometry.

Diagram of how the reflected sunbeams (also known as the deathray) melted parked cars and burned shop carpets

Diagram of how the reflected sunbeams (also known as the deathray) melted parked cars and burned shop carpets

The experience of visiting Skygarden did not leave an indelible impression in my memory. Yes it was free which was good but one has to book in advance, bring a photo ID and go through the airport-like security of x-rays and metal detectors. The hostesses in fake fur that check the IDs and give information look like airline hostesses giving a sexualised 60’s air to the experience that made me rather uncomfortable.

The hostess the metal detector and what you see as you come out of the elevator

The hostess the metal detector and what you see as you come out of the elevator

Once upstairs I did not go immediately to the terrace as most people do. Instead I felt the need to check out first the “garden” which in fact is not visible when you first step out of the elevator. Going up the steps towards the higher level of the “garden” I had what I call “a Planet of the Apes moment”.

My "Planet of the Apes" moment. When it crossed my mind that we are nearing the end of civilisation

My “Planet of the Apes” moment. Seeing the top of other skyscrapers through the plants

Seeing the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater towers through the plants, reminded me of the classic science fiction film when the protagonists realise that the end of civilisation has occurred as soon as they see the remains of the statue of Liberty. The top of the towers through the plants was a similarly compelling image.

Inside the sky garden the restaurant balcony looks like the desert

Inside the sky garden the restaurant balcony looks like the desert

After that I went further up at the restaurant’s terrace which is shockingly bare. What garden? That was the desert. So sad, empty and disorientating, as far away from the concept of the garden as possible. The whole experience seemed more of a hoax. Eventually I went outside to the terrace where I enjoyed my 15 minutes of false superiority that any visit to a skyscraper ultimately is all about.

20 Fenchurch Street's terrace experience

20 Fenchurch Street’s terrace experience

Once again I got to think about how twisted the whole concept of public space is getting to be. This place is as public as any London square owned by a private company that you can quietly stay in if you obey a set of rules of behaviour. No skating, no smoking, no protesting, no rough sleeping and who knows what else. Public space seems to be turning into a plane of restrictions which slowly but surely squeezes the freedom out of our lives. This is not as science-fiction-like as it seemed during my Planet of the Apes moment. Slowly but surely the only thing allowed in these so-called-public places will be to marvel at capitalism’s overwhelming superiority, solidified in scary tall buildings that the masses will be able to admire from a distance.

Book your visit to the Skygarden here

The first time I saw M by Montcalm I was cycling. The building is situated on City road really close to Old Street’s roundabout which is one of the places with the most cyclist casualties in London. Keeping this in mind I always pay extra attention when I am there. That particular day I exited the roundabout successfully and almost had a heart attack at the sight of this new building hovering over me. Later on when I found out it was a hotel called M by Montcalm, I could not help but be amused as its angular and rather distorted façade looks anything but calm.

Left: Old Street roundabout / Middle: M by Montcalm from the beginning of City Road

Left: Old Street roundabout / Middle: M by Montcalm from the beginning of City Road

Being a huge fan of comic books and science fiction I would not be 100% truthful if I said I hated it, because I did not. It immediately brought to my mind Gotham City and Blade Runner. What respectable graphic novel enthusiast would not enjoy something that seems to come out of a book or a film which has been the centre of many a daydreams.

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However the root of my aesthetic satisfaction was also the source of problems for this building which has an out-of-this-world quality. I believe it looks like some funfair ride or a film set. Probably its façade’s geometry is not the only reason for that. The materials chosen play some part too. The finish of the cladding for example gives to it a rather precarious and not exactly sturdy character.

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Attempting to find out more about this building I was at a loss with the absolute lack of information available about it. Who exactly designed it? No one seems to be claiming it even though on the Montcalm website it is repeatedly mentioned that an award winning firm is responsible for it. However its name is not stated, why? Eventually I found out the company behind the design and the construction of this building was SGP Contracts Ltd. Interestingly their website does not reveal much about them either. Hardly anything to be precise. (You can have a look here) I also came across the name of an architect called Michael Square who allegedly was behind the original concept. However my searches were futile because it seems there is nothing written about him either, anywhere in the internet. In case the misinformed article had a typo and the architect is in fact Michael Squire, there no evidence of the building in his website. Therefore if he has designed it, he has obviously renounced it.

Moorfields Eye Hospital which is exactly opposite M by Montcalm

Moorfields Eye Hospital which is exactly opposite M by Montcalm

M by Montcalm is betting heavily on the area being branded as Tech City, a technological start-up apparently third in the world in size after San Francisco and New York. Tech City has received funding in order to boost the companies it hosts which mainly develop new technologies. Google’s headquarters are not far from here for example. I guess the hotel expects to attract many guests related to Tech City’s companies.

Unfortunately the building is not yet finished and I could not enter it. Admittedly I am quite curious to see if the interiors are even remotely influenced by its exterior appearance. I would be quite disappointed and not exactly surprised if they were not. Judging from the hotel’s website it does not seem that the interior spaces mirror the exterior. Naturally in case they were, the hotel might have looked even more like a fun fair ride. However it would have been a proof that there was some sort of concise architectural concept behind it and not only an aesthetic gimmick.

Middle : Old Street roundabout from M by Montcalm

Middle : Old Street roundabout from M by Montcalm

Which leads this train of thought to the inevitable consideration of the effect of a building’s appearance to the street and the responsibility the architects have on account of it. This debate is a never ending one since the beginning of the history of architecture. Naturally there could never exist one absolute truth. Aesthetics are subjective and no one can pronounce they have created a building that is objectively beautiful. Every new addition to any street is a reminder of boundaries between public and private and can initiate discussions about matters of taste but most importantly motives behind aesthetic choices. The beauty of architecture as an art largely derives from the fact that it brings together necessity and technology wrapped in the amalgam of a designer’s and a client’s taste. Matters get much more complicated when the client is the state which has specific agendas to push or (as contemporary economies have it), faceless companies which mainly chase after profit. Montcalm with its luxury hotel branding has contributed this building to the streets. I often think like most designers do, that bold is better than boring. But this is only one angle of looking at things.

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The Chamberlin, Powell & Bon exhibition at the Barbican despite its small size, is worth visiting and I can attest to that as I have enjoyed it twice already. The main exhibit on display is a series of square photographs that were chosen to be featured on the seasonal greeting cards the firm used to send to its clients. The pictures are all square-shaped, similar to the hugely famous Instagram format of the social media with the same name. Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, quite ahead of their time, favoured the square frame recognizing its power.

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The context of the pictures though is what is of importance. Looking at these images is like looking through an architect’s eyes. Form, rhythm and composition, shadow and the contrast of light and dark and of course, the human scale. This collection of photographs is a very good example of how architects were trained in the past. Attention to detail and great love for their labour is manifested on their handmade drawings that took months to produce.  The scale rulers, the drawing compass and the triangle on display are reminders of of the architectural synthesis process  as it used to unfold during previous decades. There is no doubt that this process is quite different to the one we have today.

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Chamberlin, Powell & Bon were all teaching architecture at Kingston Polytechnic when they entered and won the Golden Lane Estate competition which is situated right next to the Barbican. Golden Lane was and still is a Council Housing project. Since it is often said that with this project the architects developed and tested the ideas they eventually used on Barbican, the latter has often been confused as a social housing project itself. This naturally brings harsh criticism upon the Barbican as it is a known fact that the prices for an apartment in the complex are truly sky-high. You can have a look here.

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The Barbican was never meant to be a social housing project. It was supposed to encompass however many concepts that Le Corbusier and other modernist architects developed which definitely did not only have to do with aesthetics. Their goal was to reinvent urban living: to entwine private and public space, to provide cultural spaces and events, gardens and athletic facilities within in the same building complex. That was Modernism’s social agenda that brought humanitarian meaning to architecture for decades. The Barbican will always be an architectural monument for modernism and its galleries and performance spaces will continue to provide high quality cultural services. Still its most amazing feature is Barbican Centre’s spaces which are open to the public. Many times I go there and bring my computer along with my lunch to spend time writing next to the lake or in the foyer. The free wi-fi is much appreciated by many people who come here to work or study as friendly spaces where you can sit without having to buy and consume something are getting fewer by the minute.

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Left Instagram by architect Irena Mavromati

Unfortunately the extraordinary humanitarian ideas of architects that dreamt post war urban utopia are fading faster than ever. The Barbican is stuck in limbo between the idea of free-for-all-quality space and the luxury overpriced apartments that only incredibly rich people can afford. Therefore it is not only a unique brutalist monument but also a symbol of the architectural dream of creating a better life for all and not only for the few privileged. The current situation of overpriced housing in London, along with gentrification, privatisation and reduction of social housing prove it without a shadow of a doubt.

This little exhibition that will remain open until the 17th of May though is a modest reminder of architectural ideals in their original form. The penetrating visual observations of architects that naively chose to dream of a better future.

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It is quite often that architecture’s artistic potential is reduced to its decorative ability. Richard Serra is a sculptor but his work usually incorporates spatial archetypes which he orchestrates into sculptures of distinct architectural qualities. His alphabet of spatial paradigms is often stripped down to the absolute basic features. There are no articulations nor junctions. Most elements seem smooth and of one piece. At the same time the architectural references are never too obvious with the use of windows for example or any other similar scale-revealing elements. However most of these sculptures can be entered hence the visitor is surrounded by them making the association to buildings inevitable.

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Backdoor Pipeline

Apparently Serra distils the character and essence of spaces that have haunted him. Usually the materials he uses to form these spaces are heavy metals with a rusty finish which from certain angles look as if they have been carved in butter. They feel like light structures when in reality they weight tonnes. What interests me though is that the media used is not the metal but the space which is defined by it.

Backdoor Pipeline

Backdoor Pipeline

There are more contradictions which enrich this work and make it interesting along with its minimal aesthetic simplicity. In this specific exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London Backdoor Pipeline is actually a piece which resembles both a cave and a leviathan, summing up contradictory spatial experiences of shelter and dangerous confinement. Hence the effect is extremely powerful.

Ramble

Ramble

Ramble which is basically a simplified maze is another age-old architectural paradigm. Even though there is no way to actually get lost in it because there are no dead ends, there is a similarity to the maze concept. One has to manoeuvre around parallel metallic walls of different height hence the moving pattern is similar and brings to mind the maze archetype. Being able to find one’s way through a dense combination of obstacles can be stressful but manoeuvring skilfully among them evokes feelings of accomplishment.

Ramble

Ramble

In London Cross both access and visual contact are restricted as a part of the room cannot be seen or entered. This feels quite oppressive however eventually one realises that the inaccessible space is actually easily reached through an other door which is not even visible from the initial entrance. This obviously changes everything and the space acquires an interesting ironic quality.

London Cross

London Cross

Finally the piece of two metal solid blocks on top of one another brings forth strong feelings that refer to mortality and impermanence. To me it somehow looked like a tombstone and something about it was quite harsh or even aggressive. Most Serra sculptures are more playful and they can be entered. This is the opposite: It is impenetrable.

I believe that what Serra does is to masterfully manipulate minimal architectural symbols in order to appeal to our primordial human nature. The use of such a spatial vocabulary stirs visceral feelings that most people can relate to. Actually this is what good architecture should do as well.

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Dead Load

The one negative thing that I have to say about Serra’s work has to do with how commercial it actually is. I find quite contradictory that this work deals with universal themes which people relate to beyond culture or education, however extremely few sculptures are ultimately exhibited in public spaces or galleries. Serra’s work is exclusive to the Gagosian and is displayed in order to be sold to private collectors for astronomical prices. It is eventually hidden away in some secluded property, large enough to accommodate it and is never seen again by the public eye.

The truth is that there are no real surprises there. We all know that the art world is a dog-eat-dog area and artists strive to remain successful in order to stay relevant. Naively though, I cannot but be a little hurt when art which can reach so many is reserved for the few “privileged.

The exhibition will remain open until Wednesday 4th of March 2015

Visit the Gallery’s website here

Futuro was originally designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen as a skiing cabin in the mid-60’s. It actually originated as a post-war product reflecting Europe’s economical growth and the increase of people’s leisure time. Its aesthetic is very characteristic of its time suggesting the need for  distance from the devastating effects of war and also the dream of a high-tech better future. It is very efficient for many reasons. It can be broken to 16 pieces in order to be transferred easier but it can also be carried via helicopter in one piece and be placed on its base which should be already on site. It is additionally highly insulated and its temperature can be changed within a half hour which makes it perfect for a chalet-cabin. Regardless of its odd elliptical shape it feels quite spacious. It has everything one would need from a basic dwelling and in fact for its small size it feels rather luxurious. With so many favourable traits I was extremely surprised to find out that it was received by the public with anger, truly disproportionate to its size or production number.

Left image from futurohouse.co.uk/photos.html / Right: by the writer

Left image from futurohouse.co.uk/photos.html / Right: by the writer

Apparently the first one to be constructed and placed near Lake Puulavesi in Finland faced public protest for being too unnatural. Others that were erected in the USA were vandalised and in some states even banned altogether. Retrospectively I find the extreme reactions that the little lodge received ironic and very curious indeed. Especially since today collectors from all over the world are willing to pay a lot of money in order to buy one and transfer it to their country (which at times costs even more than Futuro itself). It really got me thinking why would a little elliptical object like this one be seen as a threat to the public which could be the only explanation for the hostility it has encountered.

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Even architectural critics dislike Futuro because they consider it a caricature that seems to pop out of a James Bond film or a graphic novel. According to some of them it is a travesty compared to other similar sci-fi specimens designed by Archigram, Buckminster Fuller, Oscar Niemeyer or even more recently Future Systems. One of the reasons is that it lacks urban vision which is for example the basis of Japanese Metabolism Architecture. Modular pieces multiplied organically to create buildings and ultimately whole cities are the concept behind architectural milestones of the genre like the Kurokawa tower.

One of the reasons why it stopped being produced was the 1973 oil crisis which increased its production cost dramatically. Today Futuro is sought after and is often auctioned in very high prices because of its rarity but also due to its kitsch comic-book aesthetics which are tremendously fashionable. This is a vintage flying saucer that looks both old and new and sums up many retro-futuristic traits that have been quite desirable in design the last few years.

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The only Futuro currently on display in UK is found at Matt’s Gallery roof terrace, only for a few more days, specifically until the 14th of December. It is put there as a host of its owner’s Craig Barnes project Centre for Remote Possibilities which he contributes to the gallery’s Revolver exhibition. The project is basically the online streaming of all events, talks, lectures and performances that are scheduled to take place in Futuro during the exhibition. Unfortunately upon my visit I did not have the chance to see any of them. Entering it though and literally bumping into the people who were there for the performance which had just finished it was very difficult not to actually chat with them. I totally ‘blame’ the Futoro for that. Its central open space with peripheral seating makes it impossible not to interact with whoever is there. People are too close to each other and there are no corners to hide in. It seems like a convivial light-hearted space hence my surprise for the attack of hatred it has received throughout its history of existence. It really got me wondering what was it about it that evoked this negativity. The only reason I could think of is that dwellings in general embody roots and traditions and societies are often reluctant to change them. I truly do not find Futuro offensive at all. However I could never be too objective as I am a huge science fiction fan.

You can visit Futuro at Matt’s Gallery until the 14th of December and of course do check out the rest of the Revolver exhibition. There are performances and events happening inside Futuro every day. Find below the link to the live stream or even better see the program and go visit it. Alternatively make a bookmark of Futuro’s website by Craig Barnes to find out the next time that a visit might be possible.

Right image from the Futuro house website http://www.thefuturohouse.com/

Right image from the Futuro house website
http://www.thefuturohouse.com/

Matt’s Gallery website

Craig Barnes website

Find out the program of events and see the live stream of what is happening inside Futuro

Futuro UK website

Check the Futuro of the exhibition before its restoration here

Or if you are interested in locating and buying one check out this website!

Japanese metabolism architecture

Architecture has been a favourite subject for artists throughout history. One of the obvious reasons is that it is very static and geometric but I find this to be too shallow of an explanation. Anything that qualifies as architecture constitutes the man-made part of our environment and as such it materializes its social structures and politics. However it also carries multiple layers of symbolism referring to the human condition. Still -as the curators of Constructing Worlds exhibition Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone have eloquently mentioned- it is extremely challenging to translate its material and sensorial aspects in a two dimensional image. This collection of images demonstrates with an interesting variety of styles of photography how this obstacle can be overturned into an asset. The very personal and ultimately subjective point of view of each photographer, highlights qualities that make up for the loss of the third dimension.

Left: Berenice Abbott Night view, New York City, 1932 © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York. Right : Berenice Abbott Rockefeller Center, New York City, 1932 © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Left: Berenice Abbott Night view, New York City, 1932 © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York. Right : Berenice Abbott Rockefeller Center, New York City, 1932 © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

The photos on display at the first floor where the exhibit begins are more or less objective in documenting their era. Downstairs on the contrary the photographs are more subjective and artistic. The images are organised in a chronological order so the first artist one comes across is Berenice Abbott who is famous for her breathtaking 1930’s New York photos. This old-school depiction of the city which architects will always be fascinated with, is spectacular. Artistically and compositionally, the photos are perfectly balanced but most importantly they somehow manage to capture the frenzy of innovation that New York embodied at that time. Its aspiration for expansion and the hope of a new world are encompassed in them and therefore they are eternally modern.

Left: Walker Evans Frame Houses. New Orleans, Louisiana, 1936 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF342-T01-008060-E] © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Right : Allie Mae Burroughs (Source Wikipedia)

Left: Walker Evans
Frame Houses. New Orleans, Louisiana, 1936
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF342-T01-008060-E]
© Walker Evans Archive,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Right : Walker Evans : Allie Mae Burroughs (Source Wikipedia)

While Abbott is known for zooming out and looking from afar Walker Evans is very famous for a series of pictures that he took to document the devastating effects of the Great Depression. In order to do so he zooms-into the lives of people in an almost voyeuristic way. He looks at every detail of their houses, in fact he looks close into every detail of their faces concentrating more on the personal aspect of architecture which reveals also a lot about the collective.

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Left : Julius Shulman Case Study House #22, 1960 (Architect: Pierre Koenig) © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10) / Right : Julius Shulman Case Study House #22, 1960 (Architect: Pierre Koenig) © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10)

Those who have studied architecture or its history should be quite familiar with the Shulman photos than come up next in this exhibition. The legendary case study houses, naïve as they may seem in showing-off post war luxury and picture-perfect families, are considered historically important. The Eames and Koenig houses are design prototypes that haunted generations of architects who tried to follow their example.

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Left :Lucien Hervé High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, 1955 Photograph by Lucien Hervé. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2002.R.41). © J. Paul Getty Trust With permission from Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris and Judith Elkan Hervé. / Right : Lucien Hervé High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, 1955 The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2002.R.41). © J. Paul Getty Trust With permission from Fondation Le Corbusier,

Lucien Hervé was not only admired for his unique talent but also for the opportunity he had to be Le Corbusier’s chosen photographer in documenting his iconic work. He travelled to Chandigarh to witness the construction of the High Court of Justice and the Secretarial Building. The images reveal the dramatic chiaroscuro that is created by the concrete and India’s sunlight and are works of art in their own right.

13.-Bernd-&-Hilla-Becher,-Constructing-Worlds-installation-images-©-Chris-Jackson_Getty-Images

Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Bernd & Hilla Becher installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Bernd and Hilla Becher have contributed the photographs of 21 water towers displayed in a rectangular grid formation. Sculptural and monolithic as their subjects are reveal the contradictory beauty of industrialisation that most contemporary architects are drawn to.

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Left : Stephen Shore Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1974 Image courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York and Sprüth Magers, London © 2014 Stephen Shore / Right : Stephen Shore Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974 Image courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York and Sprüth Magers, London © 2014 Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore’s photographs document the environment where pop culture occurred. They depict everyday spaces, back streets, garages and fire escapes but their vibrant technicolor palette along with examples of design like cars or characteristic fonts on street signs, unmask the very specific age that they derived from.

In the downstairs part of the exhibition where the work of more contemporary artists is displayed things get much more personal. In fact the images at times seem almost psychoanalytical revealing more about the actual photographers than about the buildings and their architects.This does not mean that architectural photographers of previous decades did not have a personal point of view. True to their time though their opinions were more subtle and sought to highlight the buildings more than their own perceptions of them. Contemporary photography is less detached and objective. It is actually the exact opposite: involved and engaging and by putting the photographer’s interpretation forth it speaks of an artist’s dreams or nightmares but also of politics, social structures and conflict.

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Left : Hiroshi Sugimoto World Trade Centre (Minoru Yamasaki), 1997. Courtesy of Hiroshi Sugimoto / Middle: Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Hiroshi Sugimoto installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images / Right : Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Hiroshi Sugimoto installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images

One of the exhibits I liked the most was of Hiroshi Sugimoto. He chooses architectural icons such as Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and Yamasaki’s Twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The photographs are out of focus and simple as this idea might be the effect is spectacular and the possible interpretations can vary. These buildings need no introductions they are historic lampposts and as such they hold actual or symbolic memories for most.

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Left : Hélène Binet Jewish Museum Berlin, Daniel Libeskind, Untitled 9, July 1997. Courtesy of Hélène Binet / Right : Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Hélène Binet installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Hélène Binet has photographed Daniel Libeskind’s famous Jewish Museum in Berlin during construction. The play of light through the dramatic windows of a building that is considered a sculptural monument on its own, seem even more interesting as rough slits in the wall. Without glass panes and finishes weirdly imply that they could have remained like that, unfinished.

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Left : Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Andreas Gursky installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images / Right : Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Andreas Gursky installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Andreas Gursky chooses to alter architecture through digital manipulation. This as a method is largely used in our days although the effect is not always so blatantly outspoken. In Gursky’s work the goal is to make a very specific social commentary about the way societies are structured and how these structures are reflected on the built environment.

21.-Bas-Princen,-'Mokattam-ridge'-(garbage-recycling-city),-2009

Left : Bas Princen ‘Mokattam Ridge’, (Garbage Recycling City), Cairo, 2009 Courtesy of Bas Princen / Right : Bas Princen Cooling Plant, Dubai, 2009. Courtesy of Bas Princen

Another photographer who creates truly haunting images is Bas Princen. His work is focusing on five cities Istanbul, Cairo, Amman, Beirut and Dubai. He is interested mostly in urbanity and the way that cities by expanding reveal a lot about the social fabric that creates them. I stayed quite a while in front of the photo of Mokattam (Cairo) where every inch of open space in the area depicted is covered with trash as the city’s economy is based on recycling. I felt similar awe by looking at the image of the cooling plant in Dubai. Sleek, megalithic and soul-less brought to my mind the black slate surrounded by apes at the beginning of Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey.

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Guy Tillim Grande Hotel, Beira, Mozambique, 2008 © Guy Tillim. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg (Diptych)

A similar feeling of abandonment is evoked in the photos of Guy Tilly. Late-modernist post colonial blocks in decay speak eloquently about the false promises that were given to Africans. Decay is also one of the central themes in Simon Norfolk’s photographs but this decay is inflicted suddenly on the cities that he visited because of war. Sadness but weirdly also irony is the message that he seems to convey, especially in the images of vibrant natural sunset colours.

25.-Simon-Norfolk,-A-secuirty-Guards-booth...,-Herat,-2010-2011.-Burke_Norfolk.-Courtesy-Simon-Norfolk

Left : Simon Norfolk A security guard’s booth at the newly restored Ikhtiaruddin citadel, Herat, 2010 – 2011. Courtesy of Simon Norfolk / Right : Simon Norfolk Former Soviet-era ‘Palace of Culture’, Kabul, 2001 – 02. Courtesy of Simon Norfolk

The large format pictures of Nadav Kander who has travelled in China to document activities and structures across the massive Yangtze River portray a country that is extremely contradictory. Traditional but modernised, communist but expanding with capitalist aggression. Vast but densely populated.

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Left : Nadav Kander Chongqing XI, Chongqing Municipality, 2007 © Nadav Kander, courtesy Flowers Gallery. / Right : Nadav Kander Chongqing IV (Sunday Picnic), Chongqing Municipality, 2006 © Nadav Kander, courtesy Flowers Gallery.

Iwan Baan photographed Torre David, the Centro Financiero Confinanzas in Caracas, Venezuela. A huge tower block that due to the 1994 financial crisis was left unfinished and empty for a decade. Eventually it was squatted by no less than 3000 inhabitants that transformed it slowly but efficiently until it became habitable. Their apartments and communal activities are displayed in these images which document an impressive collective venture that seemed to have worked wonderfully for a number of years. The housing shortage which is a global problem and a possible solution are both mentioned here along with Torre David’s unfortunate ending when its residents were evicted in the summer of 2014.

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Left : Iwan Baan Torre David #2, 2011 Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles. / Middle : Iwan Baan Torre David #10, 2012 Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles. / Right : Iwan Baan Torre David #1, 2011 Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles.

Architectural photography has changed a lot throughout the years and this exhibition follows its transition. The photographers portray the buildings and the history of the people who created them because undoubtedly in observing architecture closely one is actually looking at humanity and its ways of inhabiting the world. This collection of images reveals a lot about political history and art history as well. We see clearly how artists true to their time crossover from a hopeful but also clean-cut way of being to a deeper, quasi- psychoanalytical manner of looking at society and its material creations. Uncomfortable as it might be, our world seems to be getting increasingly unfriendly and with more conflict than ever and it is no coincidence that these artists choose to highlight that.

If you are in London until the 11th of January do not miss the chance to catch this exhibition.

Find the exhibition website here

Read more information about the photographers at the exhibition here

Find a podcast of curators Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone discussing the photographers’ work here

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Ordinary beauty is quite an interesting title for this exhibition because these photographs are not very ordinary at all. Smith’s editing eye and the way his compositions are chosen are truly remarkable. The angle of the frames, the light and of course his strategic choice of introducing objects that refer to the human body. In doing so, regardless of the fact that people are usually absent in his photographs, the human presence is always implied. I believe this potentially derives from his architectural training. Usually in architects’ drawings and illustrations the human scale is evident but actual human bodies are absent. Architects are poetic this way. They are trained to be sensitive to peoples’ needs which are supposed to be their priority, however more often than not human bodies are absent in their representations.

My first impression when I entered this exhibition was that the quality of these photographs was superb. Which actually did not explain the fact that I was slightly bored and not very excited to write about them. It took me a whole month I believe to get around writing this article.

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Still I cannot deny that I liked quite a few of the subjects depicted. For example the bench with the plants growing through it stayed with me because even though Smith was a trained architect he shows a lot of respect, or one might even say awe, for nature and its ability to take over human creations. In fact in some ways Smith shows he is not that into the man-made environment even though architecture seems to be the centre of his attention. Ultimately architecture seems to be almost a necessary evil in these images when what actually prevails is nature and the decay it brings, which is inescapable.

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Undeniably all artists have their own private obsessions. The subjects that speak to them, are their inspiration and what they choose to depict. For Edwin Smith the underlying subject in his photographs is the past or rather a world that is destined to disappear. Hence his pictures are always filled with nostalgia and intense emotion. As I have already mentioned the compositions are great and he is unique in revealing all that is poetic in things that otherwise would have been seen as mundane and unimportant. However there was something in this whole collection of pretty images that did not agree with me.

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Probably it had to do with the fact that this overall sentiment of nostalgia is not very exciting. When people start reminiscing too much about the past and glorify it by saying that things were much better then than now, you know that they are growing old. And it is a known fact that feeling old has nothing to do with age. Being in the present and anticipating the future is young, while being nostalgic and resentful of change is old. People can be young or old at any age. If they are old in a young age a possible way to describe them is conservative.

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This is what I did not like in this exhibition. Smith is supposed to be one of the most iconic British photographers and actually the one that represents Britishness better than most and indeed he has done an amazing job in focusing on history and its importance. He has also done a great job in producing a body of work that is ultimately a “memento mori”, a reminder of human mortality. This is achieved through the importance that is given to the power of decay and the way in which it is implied that nature is destined to destroy whatever man has created.

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However there are some things that are very intrinsic to Britishness that are totally left out of these images. Eccentricity, novelty, innovation which all have one foot already in the future and look forward to change. Smith’s images focus in the past and whatever is destined to disappear and die. Naturally death is always present within life and truly there are no new beginnings without something being lost or left behind. There is always pain over the loss but the pain is partly overtaken by the joy of the anticipation of the new. Here the new is not even implied. This very conservative way of looking at things is most definitely not what speaks to my heart. Still this exhibition is very much worth seeing.

The exhibition will be on until the 6th of December 2014

Find out more on RIBA’s website here

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