Archive

Tag Archives: Barbican

chamberlin-powell-bon1

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

chamberlin-powell-bon2

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

chamberlin-powell-bon-3

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

chamberlin-powel-bon-5

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

chamberlin powell bon 6

Left Instagram by architect Irena Mavromati

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

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

Advertisements

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.

8.-Lucien-Herve,-High-Court-of-Justice,-Chandigarh,-1955

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.

18.-Hiroshi-Sugimoto,-World-Trade-Centre,-1997

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.

17.-Guy-Tillim--DIPTYCH----Grande-Hotel,-Beira,-Mozambique,-2008

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

According to the myth Persephony was snatched by Hades, god of death, on a beautiful spring day while playing in a field. She was dragged to the underworld leaving her mother Demeter, goddess of agriculture miserable and totally unable to tend to the crops. A terrible drought hit the land hence a deal with Hades had to be made in order for humanity to survive. Persephony was tricked into eating pomegranate seeds from the underworld and thus she always had to return there. At least it was agreed that she went back to her mother six months each year, who was so happy to see her that brought spring back. Winter returned when Persephony had to go again to the underworld.

momentum1

The descent into darkness and the emergence into light is so common in the stories of such a large number of cultures that ultimately it is recognised as a fundamental symbol of existence. It encompasses the circle of life, death and rebirth, dark phases in people’s lives, and of course the seasonal changes. Darkness is often synonymous with negative things, difficulties, endings and sorrow. Like in the Greek myth, one might be tricked into it but often it somehow seems unavoidable. While in the dark one has to keep the faith in the light in order to eventually be rewarded with well-being and joy at the end of the tunnel.

momentum2

This ancient story came to my mind when I visited Momentum, the UVA exhibit in the Curve gallery at the Barbican. Past the curtains of the entrance and after the few well lit steps was the darkness. The first impression was unsettling because I was suddenly deprived of the security of seeing and being orientated. The fog, the quasi deep-sea sounds the other visitors that unexpectedly popped-up in front of me made me feel insecure. There was a moment I thought I would run to the exit, but then the unexpected happened. I saw some people sitting along the curved wall and I was surprised. What were they exactly doing? I thought I’d try it, so I leaned on the wall and slowly slid down on it until I sat on the floor. After a couple of minutes of being amazed with how comforting it was to be there I started thinking of the elements of this orchestration. There were the lights that moved slowly back and forth. They changed from a soft-lit haze towards the ceiling and walls, to sharp blades of light that cut the thick atmosphere vertically towards the floor. It was also the non-musical soundtrack,of sonar beeps and dolphin click-sounds. Then I thought, this is a womb. It is soft and comforting it is dark and cosy and all of us like identical siblings were clinging to its walls. It was not scary any more, at least not for a while.

momentum3

This exhibit has been described as hypnotic and meditative by its creators and its visitors. Even though meditation is an attempt to be aware and present which is the opposite of being hypnotised, strangely Momentum can be both. It depends on how the descent into darkness is interpreted. One can choose to see it as a game and try to catch the light in a successful selfie, or turn inwards and contemplate.

momentum4

What I did not mention before was that the myth described above was incredibly important for the ancient world. In fact rituals that commemorated it were practised for no less than 2.000 years in Greece and were attended by people from the entire known world, (at that time). They travelled from their lands to Eleusis an ancient city, not too far from Athens, in west Attica, to be initiated to the Mysteries. The importance that was given to those rituals was so grave that anyone who revealed their secrets was sentenced to death and thus the Mysteries managed to remain secret for ever. Some things are known about what happened in the dark to the initiates. Apparently they endured much in order to be initiated to the ancient cult, but ultimately they were emerged into light, changed, reborn.

momentum5

Much has changed since then but some core things remain the same. Like the descend into the darkness that some might even undertake to go through willingly, especially when the promise of light in the end is certain. What happens in the dark is always a mystery and should not be discussed much because it loses its magic. It is something each of us has to carry within when it is time to resurface to glorious light , as the memory of a process.

And what a glorious day it was when I exited the Barbican!

momentum6

The exhibition will be on until the 1st of June 2014

Barbican website here

United Visual Artists website here

Eleusinian Mysteries Wikipedia page here

Collage of visitors posing. All photos by the writer

Collage of visitors posing. All photos taken by the writer

The installation I am writing about no longer exists. However it triggered some thoughts that revolve around the concept of architectural art that seem discussion-worthy. Dalston house was designed by Leandro Erlich and was placed in an empty plot right behind Dalston Junction which is currently one of London’s most fashionable areas. Its production was also attributed to the Barbican and Dalston’s local cafe Oto that is involved in many interesting art projects. The installation was a façade of a small terrace house placed on the ground with a mirror hanging over it in a 45 degree angle. The visitors could lie down on the collapsed “building” in various positions and their reflection would create the visual illusion that they were hanging from the roof or sitting on a window sill etc.

                                                     dalston-house2

When I first saw the press release and some photos of Dalston house I thought that it was a clever idea. In fact I still think it is a clever idea but the truth is that I was not actually that impressed when I visited it. The reason though had little to do with the actual exhibit.

Barbican’s exhibitions get a lot of exposure. Too much to be exact and I have missed many of them because in order to have seen them I would have to literally queue for hours. The artificial rain exhibit at the Curve gallery (the Rain Room) for example had a minimum of four hours waiting time on most days which meant that I never saw it. This is why I was a bit intimidated by Dalston house. Fortunately one had the possibility to see the exhibit and photograph it without queuing to enter it and naturally I preferred that option.

Photographed from the side

Photographed from the side

How it worked was that every visitor, or group of visitors had a few minutes to assume positions and have their photo taken often by the exhibition’s attendants. When the countdown started they all did their best to pose as creatively as they could. What annoyed me was not the background that the house offered but the crowd that armed with their iphones were striving to get a truly original photo of themselves possibly for their facebook profile pic. I saw little joy, less play and even less spontaneity not to mention the abundance of vanity.

dalston-house-4

Being a part of London Festival of Architecture, Dalston house got me thinking about the nature of the exhibit. Was it an art project? Was it really related to architecture? Is there such a thing as architectural art and what exactly does that mean? If architectural art exists (as it has been previously discussed in this blog mostly on account of the Serpentine pavilion), its purpose seems to be to trigger people to contemplate on architecture or life within and around buildings. In fact quite a few architects aspire to do so nowadays with their work. They want to believe that their buildings can somehow “enlighten” the users to question the existing social structures. Ambitious to say the least. Being the sceptic that I am I very much doubt this could ever really happen.

dalston-house5

As I am increasingly interested in what influences architectural decisions (which I often find that is related to politics and the infliction of power), I believe that projects with strictly aesthetic purposes are less relevant than ever. I am not totally sure about Dalston house’s original intention but my hunch is that its creator meant for it to be playful and intriguing. However for me it ended up being interesting for a different reason. The attraction of a large number of people is the usual measure for how successful a work of art is. Sadly it is not often that commercial success coincides with spontaneity and playfulness. In other words, the queue, the time limit for each person’s visit and most importantly the feeling of one being watched and potentially judged, play an important role on how free one feels to be playful.

dalston-house6

From my point of view Dalston house oddly managed to reflect contemporary society’s voyeuristic tendencies. Being photographed while doing something in order to share it in various social media seems more important that actually experiencing anything. Unfortunately art is another product to be consumed. People want to visit such exhibits because they are fashionable and having seen them reflects some coolness upon them. Even more so if they have the photographs to prove it. I might sound a bit too harsh but I stayed and observed for quite a while and I saw no one that entered the exhibit solely with the intention of experimenting and playing with it. Well, this is not entirely true, there was a group of children that looked as if they wholeheartedly enjoyed themselves to the maximum, even though they did have their picture taken too. It actually made me wonder if any of us is even able to just experience an exhibit like this one without secretly craving to be watched.

Barbican web page for Dalston house here

Leandro Elrich’s web site here

A house becomes a home when the owner’s belongings start to narrate his life story, documenting travels, everyday rituals and the passage of time. Objects are very important in establishing a house’s identity by creating a link between architecture and the inhabitant and in that sense, things do create space. Often architecture simply provides the white canvas onto which the inhabitants life is projected thus just by looking into someone’s house, considerable information about their personality is exposed.

Song Dong’s installation of his mother’s huge collection of objects throughout decades reveals more than just his family’s history. These objects also narrate the story of China’s Cultural Revolution where most commodities were rationed in very small quantities and consequently were considered incredibly valuable.

Song Dong ‘Waste Not’ at the Barbican

The touching tale of how Song Dong’s mother saved soap for years with religious devotion to give it to him as a wedding present only to realise that her son had no use for it because technology and the new social circumstances allowed him to own a washing machine, is quite haunting.

This simple story displayed next to the tower of soap clings to ones mind and has a humbling effect: we realise people’s lives under the circumstances were materially deprived, while nowadays capitalism has spoilt us in the exact opposite manner. This weird collection of things that today can only be seen as rubbish further proves that, while simultaneously keeps a record of the artist’s mother’s mental illness. Still there is much truth within this compulsive excess and also richness in information and emotion.

Song Dong ‘Waste Not’ at the Barbican

 I personally noticed an urge in me to examine in detail things that could have been thrown in the bin but instead were preserved. With this careful observation somehow I paid respect to the collector’s diligence. I guess what I found touching was the love with which the objects were kept, out of care for generations to come and fear of possible shortages.

Song Dong ‘Waste Not’ at the Barbican

However what is of interest is the objects’ ability to define space. Looking at the old furniture made me think of the wall they leaned against in Song Dong’s mother’s house and the mark they left there once they were removed. This art work speaks of the way we appropriate spaces through things and documents how they become the glue that binds our lives stories to architecture. Without them buildings are nothing more than lifeless containers.

Song Dong’s ‘Waste Not’ at the Barbican until the 12th of June. Visiting information here

The reviews for the OMA/Progress exhibition at the Barbican have been quite positive and this can be easily justified . The layout is rather unique, mainly because it was curated by the Belgian collective Rotor and their non-architectural point of view is certainly refreshing. Their goal was to make the exhibition accessible to the general public and not just to architects. Even though the choice of exhibits is quite unconventional and one is intrigued  to figure out the architects’ rational (or is it the curator’s way of thinking?) it does imply that there is an aura of genius around anything that OMA is involved with. This might possibly explain why we need to read with religious piety hundreds of emails OMA exchanged with their clients, or see random snapshot of their computer screens. Even trivial things seem important …is this what makes them so wonderful? Or is it the fact that they feel confident enough to publicise without editing  thoughts, documents and possible mistakes?

Actually the publication of private office information does not help that much the visitor  to grasp the whole  ‘work in progress’ idea . It rather seems to be an expression of an architect’s inflated ego (an unfortunate occupational hazard) that urges them to show off in a childlike manner. Not to mention the advantages of advertising and most importantly the establishment of OMA as a ‘brand’ which does not stand out because of a specific design style but through their ‘special’ approach in solving architectural problems . Nevertheless there is something unique about this architectural practice. What is special about OMA  is featured quite explicitly in the exhibition and it is a sort of old-school approach and devotion towards the architectural synthetic  procedure.

It is obvious that they take the time to experiment on materials and models, when other practices have hardly produced any physical scale models since 3D CAD was invented. Apparently it costs too much and offers too little. Still the building materials on display (often developed and patented by the practice) along with the substantial number of models remind us something OMA know well. That architecture is an art and it ‘speaks’ its own language, the elements of which are those mundane tiles and bricks and the possible ways of experimenting with them.  OMA  do take the time and the risk to step into unknown territories and find new ways to speak the architectural language, even if at times they fall into the trap of believing they speak it better than anyone else.

As far as the aesthetics of their architectural idiom or the ethics of their practice are concerned, the exhibition offers loads of material for the visitors to make up their own minds. After all, one thing OMA cannot be accused of, is being afraid of criticism. Any publicity is good publicity.

This is a unique architectural exhibition because the exhibit is neither a building nor the representation of a building. It is actually an exercise in architectural synthesis. Junya Ishigami
presents it as a structural experiment. By introducing a triangular grid of carbon fibre beams and columns of minuscule diameter, he attempts to create a structure made out of raindrops.
The fragile, almost ethereal creation that expands in Barbican’s Curve gallery, demonstrates the way a project unfolds and develops in an architect’s mind. What is particularly interesting, is that the goal is somewhat reversed. When most architects are accused of being visibly ambitious, this structure, is rather ambitious in humility.
Ishigami here, aims to contemplate on architecture, rather than to create space. This project has conceptual affinities with Gordon Matta-Clark’s work, obviously not by similarity of forms. Both artists manipulate architectural elements and methods, aiming to present new ways of looking at  architecture.
Still, this work should be praised more on its poetic qualities, rather than as an engineering achievement. To establish whether it materialises an architect’s need to be truly humble, we must
consider that for a Zen Buddhist attempting to excel in anything, even in humility, is considered a sign of being egocentric.

%d bloggers like this: