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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.

14.-Julius-Shulman,-Case-Study-House-#22,-Pierre-Koenig,-1959

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.

5.-Stephen-Shore,-Beverly-Boulevard-and-La-Brea-Avenue,-LosAngeles,-CA,-21-June-1974

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.

26.-Helene-Binet,-Jewish-Museum-Berlin,-Daniel-Libeskind,-Untitled-9,-1997

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.

2.-Andreas-Gursky,-Constructing-Worlds-installation-images-©-Chris-Jackson_Getty-Images

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.

10.-Nadav-Kander,-Chongqing-XI,-Chongqing-Municipality,-2007

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.

1.-Iwan-Baan,-Torre-David-#2,-2011

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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Tonkin Liu’s architecture is certainly impressive both aesthetically and conceptually.  Parametric design usually is because of its intricacy. This particular work’s aesthetic reminded me slightly of Islamic architecture although the latter Is intricate in regards to decoration and not as fas as the actual structure is concerned.

Islamic Architecture

Islamic Architecture

Attempting an almost simplistic definition of parametric design, it is the production of structural forms, using variables and algorithms which generate a hierarchy of geometric relations. In other words the variable (usually a certain structural part) follows a specific ‘rule’ in movement, rotation or distortion and its repetition or its development ultimately produces the building’s form.

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This design tool has been quite fashionable the last 25 years or so as the architects have gotten increasingly infatuated with what they can come up with technology’s assistance. Looking into its history though I was surprised to find out that Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia is also considered an example of early parametric design. The calculation of its breathtaking vaults and arches was achieved with the help of the fascinating inverted model of plumb lines that is now placed in Sagrada Familia’s museum.

La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Left the plumb line model

Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu started their practice in 2002. What is interesting in their approach is that they like to observe nature very closely and find ways to imitate its forms, not decoratively but structurally. Their idea of creating the lace-shell is the centre of this RIBA exhibit. In a nutshell what they wanted to achieve was to make flat sheets that would have their own strength. In their own words, to create “a suit that could hold itself up”. In order to do that they studied seashells where stiffness is achieved regardless of the thinness of the actual material. After analysing a shell’s formal characteristics they narrowed down certain qualities the combination of which result to its strength. Curvature, corrugation, distortion, stiffening and beading.

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The next phase was to develop the algorithm that would combine the above and in doing that they also introduced another element in their study: perforation, which aimed to reduce the volume of the material and make it lighter. Reading their Prototyping Architecture essay (download it here) I was impressed with how observant they are with nature and the way they attempt to incorporated the lessons they learn from it in their design. For example the reduction of volume with the method of perforation is an interpretation of how caterpillars strategically munch on leaves without ever compromising the leaf’s structural integrity because if they did, naturally they would fall off it themselves.

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The organic aspect of Tonkin Liu’s design is what elevates their work aesthetically. In the past I was never taken back by most parametric architectural examples I came across. Somehow they all looked similar, mostly because they seemed rather soulless and a bit too technical for my taste. This kind of work is different though. It is undoubtedly inspired.

Keeping in mind that the algorithmic development for these projects is more complicated than most it makes sense that Tonkin Liu would need extra help. This is where the equation becomes even more complicated and the famous statement “the cause does not justify the means” becomes relevant.

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Lend Lease, the colossal multinational corporation that has funded the talented architectural team’s research, has delivered in the past architectural icons such as the Sydney Opera House. However the last few years it has been behind two very controversial developments in London that have forced thousands out of their homes in order to raise the land value and attract more desirable clientèle. These developments are non other than the Olympic park and the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle and like most similar projects they have been presented to the public as regeneration of run-down areas when in reality their goal was an immorally disproportionate profit compared to the damage that was cause to the social fabric of the affected areas.

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There is no doubt that this work is spectacular but to my eyes it loses most of its value. Romantic as this may sound, I believe that choosing one’s allies is at times more important than the quality of the final product. In fact I find very negative that people get so immersed in their work that they fail to look at the bigger picture. History has shown that experiments which took place in the expense of the underprivileged, ultimately got the place they deserved in the public eye’s opinion. Although nowadays more people than most are willing to turn a blind eye when external beauty is extraordinary enough.

Find Tonkin Liu’s website here

Find the exhibition’s website here

 

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Megalithic, minimal architecture is most definitely not my cup of tea. Yet weirdly the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmenabad by Louis Khan is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen in my life. Kahn stated that the concept behind it was to wrap the building with ruins in order to generate passive climate control. This is how genius he was, he created poetry by the use of absolute, strict logic. How many other architects or artists were ever able to do that? The way that I am moved by Kahn’s architecture can only be compared to the feeling I get when I look at images of Gordon Matta-Clark’s art. A delightful tightness in the stomach is how I would describe it. Vertigo but of a pleasurable kind, similar to that one feels facing natural grandeur like looking down from the top of a cliff.  I always thought that Matta-Clark was inspired by Khan and this exhibition in the Design Museum does not fail to mention there was a connection between the two.

Top picture : Indian Institute of Management, Ahmenabad / Bottom pictures: Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical intersect

Top picture : Indian Institute of Management, Ahmenabad / Bottom pictures: Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical intersect

Khan was brilliant and apparently more dedicated to his work than most of his peers. However he died by heart attack in a train station’s toilet with a debt of half a million dollars. Apparently he was too much of a dreamer. A true artist who never even considered to balance cost and quality in his art. He went to all lengths, he slept on the floor of his office working at all hours, calling his colleagues to complain about something at 4 in the morning and expected the same degree of dedication from everyone. He developed schemes for projects without knowing if he would ever get the commission. He continued to ameliorate finished projects when the clients have long stopped paying him. Hence the debt. Money was not important, ever. Architecture was important.

Left: Louis Khan's notebook / Right: Down town Philadelphia study (not built)

Left: Louis Khan’s notebook / Right: Down town Philadelphia study (not built)

Often his non-negotiable views on architecture though were to cost him grand commissions like that of designing the centre of Philadelphia. Even though he was invited to produce a scheme, his concepts were never materialized because they were considered too utopian. This failure of his is documented at the beginning of Design Museum’s exhibition and the public is therefore warned about the architect’s seemingly unrealistic intentions.

In one of the videos screened in the exhibit, Mario Botta says that “Lou” was not only fascinated with the outcome of his work, the built product, but with the process of creating it as well. Regardless of how obsessed he might have been with the artistic process, science and construction were still extremely important aspects of his work. Kahn among other thing is known for his invention of servant and served spaces.

Yale Art Museum. Tetrahedral ceiling 'servant' space

Yale University Art Gallery. Tetrahedral ceiling ‘servant’ space

An example is the tetrahedral ceiling grid for Yale University’s Art Gallery, the geometry of which is revisited at the Philadelphia City Tower project, a massive model of which can be found in this exhibition.

Philadelphia Tower project. (Was not built)

Philadelphia Tower project. (Not built)

In general I enjoyed the models I saw at the Design Museum a lot. Some of the most fascinating ones are naturally the original work models that his office produced for the capital of Bangladesh in Dhaka. Those rough cardboard jewels look like geometric puzzles that one is challenged to solve and they materialize perfectly their creator’s complex dream for space.

The Capital of Bangladesh in Dhaka. Building and original models

The Capital of Bangladesh in Dhaka. Building and original models

All of Kahn’s values which were ultimately ingrained in his architecture are highlighted in this exhibition: science, community, landscape, timelessness. This is achieved with simple but eloquent texts, videos and photographs but most importantly with original hand drawings, sketches and models. This is why this exhibition is not to be missed, because it displays masterpieces that once were only humble traces of an architect’s mind. Rough doodles on a piece of paper meant to instigate a conversation with an employee or client.

Top: Exeter Academy Library / Bottom: Kimbell Art Museum

Top: Exeter Academy Library / Bottom: Kimbell Art Museum

Many of his buildings did not look very impressive from the outside. The exteriors of Exeter Library and the Kimbell Art Museum for example resemble factories. Upon entrance however they unfold miraculously proving that the experience of the person who uses them was what really mattered to Khan.

Similarly the few houses he built show his intentions of designing them to become homes to their owners and not self-absorbed works of art. In general the “quality and not quantity” aphorism is very appropriate for Louis Kahn’s architecture.

Original drawings sketches of Louis Kahn's house designs. Model: Vitra reproduction

Original drawings sketches of Louis Kahn’s house designs. Model: Vitra reproduction

After visiting this exhibition I remembered watching Nathaniel Khan’s documentary about his father entitled My Architect, back in 2003 and decided I needed to watch it again. I remembered liking the film the first time I saw it and I did again now. Regardless of the fact that Nathaniel Kahn is on a very personal journey to settle his unresolved issues of abandonment with his father and too much personal information is revealed in the process of doing that.

Salk Institute of Biological Studies

Salk Institute of Biological Studies

Naturally I was surprised and at times appalled by how horribly selfish and insensitive Kahn appeared to be with his three parallel families. Nonetheless as Roland Barthes has stated (in his Death of the Author essay), the creator’s personal story is not and should not be considered while evaluating his/her work. Louis Kahn was an architectural genius who inspired and motivated hundreds of students during his years of teaching and later on thousands of architects who were acquainted with his work. Not to mention the effect he had on the lives of the users of his buildings.

Capital of Bangladesh Dhaka

Capital of Bangladesh Dhaka

Ultimately there is no doubt that Kahn was an exceptionally inspired idealist of an architect. His legacy could not be described more eloquently than by the words of his friend and colleague B.V Doshi who Kahn had his last dinner with the night before he died.

Matter in spiritual terms was what mattered to him. Silence mattered to him. The enigma of life mattered to him. Those are not normal discourses but this is what he liked to talk about. When someone can understand those things he cannot be a normal person. He must be a highly cultivated soul.”

The exhibition will be on until the 12th of October. Visit Design Museum’s website page for it here

Watch Nathaniel Kahn’s documentary “My Architect. A son’s journey” here

In the past I have loved to complain about the Serpentine Pavilion not so much about particular design reasons but rather because of what it generally represents: the architectural elite. Without researching much this year’s design (I had basically only heard that it was one of critics’ favourites) I went to Kensington Gardens.

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Initially this folly seems almost basic in shape. There is something ancient about it which I guess has to do with the organic-ness of its form and with the fact that its columns are sunk into really large stones placed on the lawn. Hence an illusion is created and the structure seems to be hovering over the ground. The most important reason for me liking this doughnut of a hut is that it is an introvert structure compared to most of its show-off-predecessors. And like most introverts, especially the shy and artistic types, it is full of surprises. Another reason is that it was clear to me that it was not designed for people only to come and look at it in awe. On the contrary it was made for people’s comfort, cosiness and intellectual stimulation. I run into all sorts of visitors, those who just came there to have a coffee and a chat, the ones that took hundreds of photos, studied and drew it like myself and those who just came in to take shelter from the rain.

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Whatever the reason everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy and study it. I have the impression that this is one of those truly inspirational buildings that make people who are not already involved in architecture, want to take an interest in it. And I believe that this is achieved through innovation. Like it or not this sort of building is not something that people bring to mind when they think of architecture.

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Of course as the saying has it, everything in the arts has been done before and as architects and critics of architecture would attest, many references to other designers can be spotted in this pavilion like for example Archigram or Future Systems. Regardless of how intriguing and stimulating this style of architecture is, it is at times too progressive for its own good because it makes it hard for people to identify with it. Not to mention that architecture that has little to no references to classical forms unfortunately often ends up looking rather tacky. I believe it is extremely difficult for architects to come up with forms that are truly innovative and still manage to attract the mainstream. Probably this is because most people crave for the new but are afraid of it as well hence they gravitate towards the old and familiar.

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Smiljan Radić seems very nice in the interviews I watched. He sounds very calm and collected and really involved in his art, in a non self absorbed way. Looking into his body of work I was happy to read that he hates signature buildings and that other than very few elements he has used before in other buildings most of his projects do not seem at all aesthetically related. That is of course because they have different programs and are made for various users and climates.

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His Serpentine pavilion’s recipe of success is that it looks like something that has landed here from outer space but also somehow looks like an ancient relic, a massive rock of Cyclopean mythic architecture. It is both old and new and it brought to my mind a sort of aesthetic that I find truly appealing: retrofuturism. Above all though it is an inviting shelter for the visitor and regardless of its weirdness it manages to keep a certain degree of humility. Its interior spaces on both ground and café level were packed with people who were not admiring it, they were just living! This is what I liked about it. My stay there was a half hour exposure to utopian futurism, but hey, forgive me for being a huge science fiction fan.

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Find the Serpentine Pavilion website here

Find more Smiljan Radic projects in Archdaily here

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