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I first came across Andreas Gursky’s work when I saw two of his photographs at the Constructing Worlds exhibition at the Barbican in 2014. Before I even read the caption of “Montparnasse” (left in the image below) which explained how the picture was processed, I knew it had undergone some sort of digital manipulation. Both the human eye and the camera lens distort the image at the ends therefore the building could never be seen as perfectly square as it looks. Later on I read that one of Gursky’s firm beliefs is that: “Reality can only be shown by constructing it, montage and manipulation paradoxically bring us “closer to the truth”.

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The philosophical question that inevitably comes right after is: what is truth? How do we define it and, ultimately is it really that important.

Bear with me in this seemingly unrelated mention of the Acropolis, or to be more precise the Parthenon in Athens, which has been pronounced the most perfect temple ever built since ancient times. This is mainly because of the optical corrections that the ancients invented when they realised that the eye naturally distorts what it sees, therefore no line can be seen as straight. Except if it is not straight.

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In fact if the distortion is inverted, and the line is bent the opposite way of how our eyes capture it, the brain is tricked into thinking it is straight. The Parthenon looks perfect because it has no straight lines and all its components are slightly distorted. In other words perfection is achieved through deceit.

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Because of my architectural training this is how I read the way that Andreas Gursky chooses to focus his interests. And it is rather obvious that I really like his pictures.

Of course their large scale which invokes a sense of awe to the viewer also plays a part. Regardless of what the curators of this exhibition say about Gursky’s work “challenging our ideas of how photography represents reality”, even if we do not choose to work our brains hard on philosophical questions, these photographs are also simply spectacular to look at.

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And they do sum up in a straightforward visual manner, many issues that have to do with the environment, architecture, the concept of collective existence, art and fashion. They also deal with more politically charged issues that have to do with capitalism, mass production, pollution and deterioration of natural resources.

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Finally there are images that seem more cryptic, like the ceiling of an airport or the blow-up of a grey carpet. One wonders if these photographs have been created in appreciation of geometry and texture or if they are a quasi-philosophical exploration with zen nuances.

One thing is certain: that Gursky’s pictures are very appealing because of both their scale and their themes that fluctuate between absolute simplicity and obscure abstraction.

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One may choose a secondary reading into them or just enjoy their visual qualities. However architecture is very present in the majority of these photographs. Which proves the way that the man-made environment and architecture provide much more than a backdrop for life.

Through many of these pictures is clear that architecture is a product of the politics that create it and in its turn it affects deeply the people whose lives unfold within it.

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Gursky has said about photography that it is not just a way to document the world, but rather a way to represent his own ideas about it. His sceptical position against impartial documentation (if there is such a thing) is proven by his very personal view of what he sees around him. A view that we are also invited to share by observing his pictures. But somehow, this very subjective view of things touches a chord in many people. It is not clear to me if this is because most people see its importance similar to what happens with classical music for example, or if it is because it speaks an easy language that is clear to most, in a way that pop culture does. Both or neither, this is an exhibition not to be missed.

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The exhibition will be on until the 22nd of April 2018

Visit Hayward Gallery’s website here

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Top Left: “Love motion” by Rhys Coren/ Top Right: “Child Hood2 by Collectif coin/ Bottom photos: “Spectral” By Katarzyna Maljka and Joachim Stugocki.

 

Lumiere London was an interesting experience. It was very cold on both nights that I went and all traffic was stopped in most major West End streets. So we could all walk in the middle of the street and have a totally different perspective of the city. An anarchic pattern of movement emerged that was not dictated by cars and traffic but from the random trajectories of people.

Walking down Regent street towards Piccadilly Circus I was even reminded of 28 days later because of the car-less streets. Still, regardless of the fact that we were not moving according to the usual London rules, we were as consumerist as ever.

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Left: “Was that a dream” by Cedric Le Borgne/ Middle: View of Regent Street/ Right: “Harmonic portal” by Christ Plant

Once I had started visiting the sites there was no stopping me. I had to see them all, as if I was collecting them, and so were a lot of others with maps or their special lumiere apps on their phones. There were also plenty of photographers with tripods looking very serious. In fact at Piccadilly Circus I saw a man filming “Voyage” (by Camille Griss and Leslie Epsztein) with both a camera on a tripod and a smart phone, looking at the two screens simultaneously.

I have strong suspicions that this person did not engage emotionally with with the art. A sign of our times where people photograph their food when they go to a restaurant to the point that they forget to eat it while it is still warm.

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Left: “Reflektor” by Studio Roso/ Middle: “IFO” by Jacques Rival/ Right: “Lampounette” by Tilt

Some of the people were looking at the lights but most were looking at them through their lenses or on their phone screens. Which explains how often art and architecture, look better on pictures than they do in reality. There is no doubt that something being photogenic adds to its value and marketability.

So, some of the lumiere exhibits photographed well but did not produce a memorable experienced immediately. Some were both compelling in person as they were on “film” and a few of them were hardly noticeable in pictures but the actual experience was magical when there. Like [M]ondes by Atsara on Mount Street Gardens in Mayfair. Lines of light were projected on a building’s façade through a cluster of tense wires giving the effect of fireflies. The experience was enhanced because in the background one could faintly hear the sound of another installation, Illumaphonium (by Michael Davis) 

where the viewers interacted with the exhibit to produce a sweet soundtrack that reminded me of summer nights by the beach, when actually I was literally freezing.

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Left: “Origin of the World bubble” by Miguel Chevalier/Middle photos: “[M]ondes” by Atsara/ Right: “Illumaphonium” by Michael Davis

Another of my favourite installations, was the one I encountered the following day at the rather sci-fi environment of Kings’ Cross. It was Aether (by Architecture Social Club and Max Cooper) where lights were projected from two sources on a grid of metal rods accompanied by an electronic soundtrack.

King’s Cross’ large housing blocks around which the exhibits were located, were more impressive than the art itself though. They looked as if they grew out of the ground all at the same time like the buildings in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil dream sequence. They are orderly and new but they lacked the strange refinement of cities which emerge organically and not as part of an incredibly expensive project.

I was looking at the art and thinking of politics and regeneration. What was the meaning of this elaborate gesture in art installations? The traffic was stopped which definitely had an effect on commerce. Was this advertising for the sponsors? Or was the whole shebang aiming to brand London, making it a unique tourist destination which competes with the other European cities.

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Top Left: “Waterlicht” by Daan Roosegaarde/ Top right: “Aether” by Architecture Social Club with Max Cooper/ Bottom Left: ” Bottle Festoon” by Community patrners across London Boroughs/ Bottom Right: “Entre les rangs” by Rami Bebawi/ Kanva

On Piccadilly Circus the organisers did not or could not turn off the lights of the massive video billboards right next to “Voyage”. The eye was inevitably drawn to them as they were much brighter. The art seemed almost irrelevant and faded compared to the power of the advertisement. And that was rather symbolic of the city as an unstoppable machine with its purpose, above all, to urge us to consume.

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Top Left: “Grabber” by Mader Wiermann/ Top Right “Dot” by Phillippe Morvan/ Bottom Right: “Voyage” by Camille Bross and Leslie Epsztein

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

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

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