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Regardless of the obvious aesthetic excellence of Akihisa Hirata’s exhibition at the Architecture Foundation I had some objections to it. However I should begin with the positive aspects of the exhibit because they are far from negligible. The maximisation of space that is achieved by the use of the contorted loop as a background for the projections and the models is quite impressive. I have been in this room a number of times already and never have I felt that the information on display was so extensive, without cramping the place or making it difficult to absorb. Using this looped panel construction Hirata also proves his tangling theory by showing in a very tangible way that increasing the complexity of the space does not necessarily cause confusion to the user. On the contrary the information unfolds in an organic way and one is able to read and understand it gradually and quite clearly. Additionally passing under the loop or looking over it in anticipation of the next model increases the spacial qualities of the room.

Hirata is a very talented architect and it is no coincidence that he was awarded the Golden Lion award at the 13th Venice Architecture Bienale for his contribution to the Japanese pavilion. His studies on angular forms develop in a very natural way and can be used for example in solar panel configurations that increase the exposure to sunlight during different hours of the day or seasons of the year. It is fascinating to see his experiments with different forms like curves, knots, prisms and fibrous structures in creating interior spaces, volumes and whole buildings that combined can produce extended urban developments or even cities. Thus he tests his theories of organically unfolding forms in many scales that span from interior space to urban design. The endeavour is undoubtedly ambitious but this very exposure of his theory to all scales is where the problem occurs.

Hirata draws a parallel between nature’s way of creating form by following the physical characteristics of the land, the weather and the elements with the way that architectural form should be designed. I concur with this concept, especially since it takes into consideration ecology. I believe that it works well in small scale projects and to some degree to larger scales as well. However cities more than anything else are a reflection of politics. It seems a bit naïve to disregard that and to believe that in order to ameliorate the cityscape the only consideration of the architect should be to study nature’s way of dealing with things. Cities are extremely complex but they always have and always will paint a fairly accurate image of all that is right or wrong within the societies that create them. No state’s physical representation could ever be modelled solely after the way that rainwater carves the stone.

In Hirata’s interview that is screened at the exhibition he discusses philosopher’s Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz’s views according to whom ‘space is an order of coexistence’ or put differently ‘space is formed by the relationships between things that exist at the same time’. Hirata adopts this concept but chooses to interpret it with the tangling theory in a way that he considers complex but is in fact one-dimensional. When the ‘things’ one refers to are people, the relations between them responsible for the creation of architectural form are most definitely socio-political. People truly do create space by coexisting but the way they negotiate their position in space and whether it is even possible to negotiate or not, is a very politically charged matter. An aesthetic interpretation of their relationships, mimicking natural structures or elements is rather superficial and totally incomplete. Especially when Hirata mentions that “his concept of tangling is to make the system with rooms to be developed into a huge, tree-like state” I found myself disagreeing with him. He speaks of Tokyo by referring to its lights and not to the ruthless capitalism that created it and he suggests urban design without so much as mentioning the socio-political responsibility that such an endeavour entails. The political games that are responsible for the creation of cities are ignored but to my opinion are the elephant in the room and Hirata’s incredible design and model-making skills do not successfully master the disappearing act.Akihisa Hirata’s exhibition will be on at the Architecture Foundation until the 17th of November

Read more about it at the Architecture Foundation website

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The charrette for Peckham’s regeneration was organised by Southwark Council , Architects Journal, and Philips and was exhibited at the Architecture Foundation in April. Six architectural practices collaborated with six light specialists, in order to come up with interventions for different sites within Peckham that combined would improve the area attempting not to interfere with the local colour described as ‘Peckhamness’. The event had a very strict one-day deadline and more importantly all computers were banned. For me that was the most intriguing part of the process, as architects would not be able to rely on technology, their most valuable tool, to dazzle the judges. However I was also rather sceptical due to the participation of Philips in the charrette.

Photos taken from AJ’s special edition issue distributed at the Architecture Foundation exhibition/last picture on the right:sketches from Duggan Morris proposal for the Aylesham Centre

The reason is that I am naturally suspicious of the involvement of any multinational corporation to an event that is supposed to help a community. More often than not, companies use the humanitarian agenda of such a project as the perfect opportunity to advertise the ‘benevolent’ nature of their public face but it is common knowledge that they are mainly trying to expand and earn more money.

Philips in particular has initiated the ‘Liveable Cities’ program which basically promotes the idea that underprivileged parts of cities can ‘easily become beautiful and secure places through the use of high quality lights’. I am tempted to stop writing this article right here, because of the obvious absurdity of this statement. The fact that serious social problems that should be addressed in order to improve any problematic part of any city, can be ‘easily’ blinded in a dear-in-headlights manner is infuriating.

Konishi-Gaffney’s proposal for Copeland Road Industrial Park

However I will continue because I believe that there is more to be said about the voluntary blindness that most participants have demonstrated towards the problems that Peckham might have and obviously to the way that architecture might be able to help or even more arrogantly, solve them.

Looking at the entries, one can say that there was a rather wide range of proposals that evolve a rearrangement of uses for existing buildings, redesigning public spaces and finding ways to connect them in a more efficient way. However there were also truly irrelevant proposals like building a cinema, a spa (!), a hotel (that apparently would bring more tourists to visit the area (!) and to my opinion the most irrelevant, one of the participants took the time to design a proper building by hand (featuring Philips lights of course) that could be a new landmark for Peckham. Naturally it was not mentioned what was the proposed use for the building. I guess that any new building, colourfully and brightly lit could act as a landmark regardless of its social context or program.

Left: Pie’s proposal for Peckham Rye Station/ Right: Robin Lee Architecture’s proposal for Copeland Road car park

Weirdly for me the only proposal that stood out and seemed to have some interest was that of Dunkan Morris that agreed not to come up with a finished architectural drawing because there was not enough time for that. The participants focused on analysing the information they had about the area and submitted a few colourful plans that did not aspire to be anything more than a work-in-progress. Their entry caught my eye also because the architects that created it said that they live in Peckham and in my opinion an actual inhabitant of an area would be more qualified to identify and address its urban issues and the way that they went about their presentations proved that.

Far left:BDP’s proposal for Eagle Wharf/far right:part of Rye Lane’s lighting masterplan

To conclude, I do believe that some interesting ideas might have emerged because of the charrette. I am not sure if they will ever be materialised or even taken into account, if and when any ‘regeneration’ of Peckham -whatever that means- will start. Unfortunately I am afraid that this whole event was an opportunity for the architects to sharpen their pencils and wits while quieting their consciences by naively believing they are offering a humanitarian service while a multinational company was finding new ways to become wealthier.

Left: Duggan Morris proposal for Aylesham Centre/ Right: Lee Marsden with Ben Adams Architects proposal for Cinema/Multistorey car Park in the Peckham and Nunhead area

All participants work for the Peckham Charrette was presented at an exhibition at the Architecture Foundation information here

See the video that was projected at the exhibition here

Information on Philips liveable program here

Images were taken from the special issue of AJ distributed at the exhibition

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