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Community design has never been thought-of highly by architects in general. Mostly because it has not been seen as sophisticated enough and additionally because it implies that the architects are not that essential if the community can do the work on its own.

In this RIBA exhibition the word community in the title does not refer to the designer, but to the “client”. Most importantly it refers to the fact that these spaces are used by the public. Nowadays when austerity and budget cuts affect public spaces immensely and the always powerful capitalism is solipsistically interested in profit, such projects are more important than ever.

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Loch Lomond Pavilion by Angus Richie and Daniel Tyler

In all of the four projects which are presented in this exhibition the architects are already part of the community or if they are not from the beginning, they end up being by the end of the project. In other words there is a degree of emotional involvement on their part that goes far beyond their fees, reputation or their professional integrity.

I was drawn to this exhibition because of its subject. Community is in many ways the opposite of the corporation. A community’s goal is that the many gain the most simultaneously. Most importantly there is no antagonism and competitiveness is not in the agenda: No one gains by the loss of anyone else. Of course this as a concept is thought to be quite Utopian, or rather we are trained to think that it is. Sometimes however, it is achievable easier than initially thought. And this exhibition shows us how by the use of an experiential display: each project is presented in a structure that either is a re-created part of the original, or some material or artefact that is used in the original project, is on display.

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Old Manor Library by Apparata Architects

The first one is a little pavilion that Scottish young architects Angus Richie and Daniel Tyler, began as their design thesis when still at university. Their concept of reflective box-like structures won the competition organised by Scottish Scenic Routes, a government-founded initiative to promote tourism. Constructed and placed around Loch Lomond, the pavilions are meant to engage and intrigue the visitors who would want to enter them and experience the unique views framed by the structure. The cabin fragment present as part of the exhibit is the first spatial experience for the visitor. Inside it there is a video screened of the actual structure in location which offers a multi-layered experience of entering the structure, in order to see a video of it in location.

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Old Manor Library by Apparata Architects

The second project is the Old Manor Library in Manor Park, East London. The Grade II listed building was left derelict from years of misuse and lack of maintenance. Create London, Bow Arts, Newham Council and Greater London Authority commissioned a competition for its renovation which was won by Apparata Architects. Part of their winning proposal was their specification of local suppliers and tradespeople for the restoration boosting the local economy. The involvement of the architects in the project was literally hands-on as they became the contractors themselves offering along with their technical knowledge, actual manual labour. Along with a team of volunteers and local tradesmen they stripped the existing envelope of the building to its structural parts and re-configured a layout which emphasised the building’s communal nature. Eventually along with several community groups housed their offices in the renovated Library.

 

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Coniston Mechanics institute by Takeshi Hayatsu Architects

 

Next project presented is the Coniston Mechanics institute in Lake District which was founded in 1852 to improve the education of the copper-mining community. The project was led by no other than John Ruskin who lived there. The building remained central in the town’s life for 100 years before falling in misuse and started to deteriorate.

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Coniston Mechanics institute by Takeshi Hayatsu Architects

Takeshi Hayatsu Architects (who also designed the layout of this exhibition) were involved in the renovation of the Institute, reflecting their interest in collaborative architecture. They also involved their students from Central Saint Martin’s unit called: “Reworking Arts and Crafts” and their creations like the outdoors communal bread-oven, the copper-clad information kiosk and other handmade artefact are on display. Also the decorative bricks that are made there have been used to create a beautiful floor for the project’s little pavilion within the exhibition. Part of the institute is also the honest shop, where artefacts are sold in a price that the buyer considers fair. A little shop is set up within the exhibition as well.

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Hastings Pier by dRMM

 

A small ramp ascents from the Mechanics Institute exhibit to the last of the projects that is presented in this exhibition which is Hastings Pier. The Pier along with its gradual deterioration eventually also caught fire. Its complicated ownership status (in public use, eventually bought by a private owner in 2017 and then through a private share scheme local residents became part-owners of the pier) did not make renovation works easy. The trust that was funded after the first public meeting in 2006 raised the funds (majority from Heritage Lottery fund) and involved dRMM led by Alex de Rijke who is a pioneer in timber design and construction.

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Hastings Pier by dRMM

 

As mentioned very eloquently in the introductory text of the exhibition: “Public buildings offer spaces to meet, participate, learn and play. They can improve our health and well-being, enable interaction across diverse social and demographic groups, and create a sense of community and civic identity through placemaking.”

The very low importance that has been given to them lately is obvious when we see that the first budgets to be cut because of austerity, are the community operated ones. And this is sadly telling of many sociological and political problems that this country is currently facing. When communities are not deemed as important enough to invest in, something is really wrong in our society. Fortunately, there are communities that find ways out of the dead-end through self-organisation with the help of like-minded designers. And this exhibition is important because it clearly demonstrates that.

The exhibition will be on until the 27th of April 2019

Have a look at their website here

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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

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When I first came across this exhibition of Paul Catherall’s linocut prints, I was drawn to it by its theme. Brutalism is a staple for architects along with the colour grey, black clothes and weird glass frames. Following my regular style of not researching what I was going to see, I entered Eames Fine Art Gallery.  The first impression was good and weirdly familiar. It was only when I went back home and looked into the artist’s work that I realised I had seen posters of his prints in the tube.

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Catherall’s work is focused on London and it is beautiful but also legible. His choice of colour is often unpredictable and surreal but the landmarks are recognisable. Therefore it was not a surprise that TFL commissioned him for a series of posters that highlight these landmarks and their accessibility by London Transport.

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Some of the prints in the Brutalism exhibition are more abstract than others and even though I like his work in general, these abstract ones were more interesting to me. Shapes and surfaces of the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre and the Lloyd’s building have been de-constructed and recomposed with the use of vibrant colours in a very inspiring way.

After reading a couple of interviews of the artist, I understood better his ethos and how it is related to architecture. Architecture is a practical, literally down to earth, art. Architects create buildings that need to be inhabited and used by people. This is, or rather should be, their first priority. Sometimes when the architecture is really really good, it suggests new ways of moving through space or even living. It can be inspiring and uplifting, but it always has to follow some rules. It needs to provide a safe environment that accommodates people’s needs and quite often, this very restriction is the source of its beauty.

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Architects who have aspired to create high art by disregarding people’s needs enter a territory of thin ice. Their appropriation of the building as their own artistic creation is merely a proof of their conceitedness and self absorption. Architecture’s success should be measured by the user’s happiness not the architect’s need for self expression.

When Paul Catherall speaks about enjoying his commissions regardless of the restrictions that they pose, like their need to be legible and relatable, I see his fascination with architecture and also why architects enjoy his prints.

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Naturally not all art has to be like that. In fact we need controversial art that defies all rules and tests the boundaries, especially in a world that becomes increasingly conservative and close-minded. However the world needs less self-absorbed artists who care only about themselves and more like Paul Catherall who is devoted to his craft and enjoys communicating that with others.

Maybe I enjoyed this work a lot because it was a exhibition full of buildings in strange colours and I am after all an architect, I cannot help myself. Anyway, if you are south of the river during this weekend, go have a look. You only have a couple of days left.

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Eames Fine Art Gallery’s is on

58 Bermondsey Street
London
SE1 3UD

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