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Exyzt is a collective of multi-disciplinary professionals from a variety of fields such as film, graphic design, dj-ing, botany and more. It was initiated by five architects in 2003 and they have been experimenting with pop-up public spaces ever since. In the past they have created such places in France, the UK, Spain and other countries.

view from the street

view from the street

The Londoners might know them also from the Dalston Mill (2009) that was a rather unique architectural/art project that was built with the support of the Barbican in Dalston. It actually still exists (with some transformations) as a community garden. However their designated space where most of their experiments take place is located on Union street in Southwark on a plot of land right by the train arches. This is actually where last year’s project name came from: the ReUnion. That project was the first one that I visited and where I met one of the founders of the collective. We chatted for a while and as I mentioned in last year’s post (read it here) he explained how they always came back to that particular location. Basically it is a private plot of land that is owned by a friend of theirs who gives it to them for free. A building permission for temporary use is issued and Exyzt and whoever wants to volunteer, joins in to built each year’s project. They recycle most of the wood they use and they store and reuse furniture and other found or made objects as well.

top left pic : Boat race / top right pic : the cafe and shop / bottom right pic : view from the shop

top left pic : Boat race / top right pic : the cafe and shop / bottom right pic : view from the shop

I regret not asking whether there is actually a hierarchy in the design procedure or not. I suppose there must be some sort of creative team that proposes the initial idea but I am not sure how the details are negotiated. Still both of the projects that I have visited so far demonstrate a degree of creativity that seems quite spontaneous. I guess that the only way to find out how the collective works is by participating in the construction of one of its projects. Judging from Exyzt’s manifesto statement though, (published in their website see here) it seems that there is no single master-mind behind the creative procedure of each year’s public space.

left pic: entrance deck / right pic: Copacabana Promenade by Roberto Burle Marx

left pic: entrance deck / right pic: Copacabana Promenade by Roberto Burle Marx

A friend and I visited the Lake on a sunny day and we brought our lunch there. We entered through the gates which are the same with last year’s space, the ReUnion, but have been painted over with an interesting blue and white pattern. Later on browsing through Exyzt’s facebook page I realised that this pattern is in fact a copy of Copacabana‘s promenade, designed by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. This is a humorous wink implying that this small public space is somehow similar to the beautiful beach in Rio de Janeiro. The entrance ramps, which I liked a lot since last year, when lifted up, become the gates/fence that enclose the Lake at night. They establish the transition between what is inside and what is outside, however more than anything else they open up the space to the street and random passer bys do not feel intimidated to cross them.

left pic : entrance deck / middle pic : shading structure / right pic : pool and decks

left pic : entrance deck / middle pic : shading structure / right pic : pool and decks

In the middle of the space there is a shallow pool that resembles a lake. A little island is placed in the middle of it but during my stay only a few visitors chose to go there because the floor of the lake looked quite slippery. Actually most children slipped and fell into the water but they seemed to enjoy themselves so much that ultimately the slippery-factor adds to the playful atmosphere. To the right of the lake there is a piece of pebbled dry land with an interesting wooded structure of a high-levelled deck for the placement of the visitors’ tents. Decks also surround the lake and on them are various sitting areas and the shop and the cafe. To the left of the lake is a series of smaller levels and a clear watered pool  where children play as well.

the-lake-5

I stayed at the Lake with my friend for a while to get a feel of the place. Observing the people, mostly parents and children in their swimsuits splashing around, it was obvious that everyone was enjoying the space a lot. The parents looked very pleased because their children seemed to be having a blast while the environment also felt quite safe and small enough for children to be constantly in sight.

Playful details, similar to the ones that I observed last year added a lot to the atmosphere of the place. For example the miniature sail boats that were attached to the decks that the children loved racing with or the crocodile made out of some sort of floating material  wrapped in plastic. Spotting a dragonfly resting on one of the sails of the toy-boats proved that regardless of the fact that the lake is not real it does attract some local fauna.

The visit was pleasant and relaxing and I happily stayed there for a while enjoying the sun. Of course the children (and the grown-ups who felt young enough to splash around with them) got the best of this year’s project. Similar to last year it feels like the space is totally open to the public without any rules nor implying it is obligatorty to purchase something in order to feel welcome.

the-lake6

As far as I can see from the two projects that I have visited so far and also by reading the collective’s manifestos and statements this is what they are after. Experimenting with the design and the construction of the projects must be an adventurous and fulfilling process for the people who are involved in it. Additionally offering their creation to the public to use and enjoy as they please has an almost utopian element in its theoretical basis. Exyzt say that they dream of architecture being a shared experience that unfolds and develops when created but also during its use as well. It looks as if they attempt to bring architects down from their pedestals of superiority and patronisation of the user. In principle they are quite revolutionary. Regardless of the obvious political implications of such an endeavour, I believe they are orientated rather towards the experimentation of design that politics. They manage to produce temporary little havens where people coexist and are able to be spontaneous and creative. In some ways they keep alive the concept of utopia that we imagined as architecture students. It was mostly back then when we still hoped that design and beauty could instigate true change in people’s lives.

Unfortunately their projects are short-lived. They are little pockets of utopia in a society where whole communities are sacrificed every day for the sake of profit, through the greedy process of gentrification.

left pic : shop / middle pic : toy crocodile / right pic: the letter box

left pic : shop / middle pic : toy crocodile / right pic: the letter box

The Lake will remain open until the end of September. Visit their program of happenings here

talks on temporary public spaces tomorrow Thursday the 19th and and Thursday the 26th of September.

Exyzt’s facebook page here

Exyzt’s website here

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The minute I came across this book I knew I had to read it. Being an architect who does not currently practice architecture, I had many reasons to identify with it. Especially when I realised that one of its recurring themes was how neglected is architecture’s political and social impact in favour of aesthetics, I knew that the author had won me over. According to LaCecla this occurred gradually. After the war the architects “played their trump card as “reformers of society”, as “engineers of the human soul”1, only to find out that this sort of patronising through architecture does not work. The failure of ideologies and the rise of capitalism provided the fertile ground for marketing and branding to flourish thus architectural practice changed dramatically for the worst.

To quote the author: “architects still carry a lot of weight; they are able with this weight to provoke a great deal of damage through ignorance and incompetence, and above all through the strange conviction that the first thing cities need is an important “signature” that will propel them into the world of fashion.” 2

Front and back cover of Against Architecture by Franco La Cecla

Front and back cover of Against Architecture by Franco La Cecla

As he mentions in another part of the book the true problem concerning architecture is that it can effectively promote co-citizenship but hardly any of the famous practising architects is addressing this issue. Architectural students in universities today are not offered the “tools to observe analyse and decipher the social impact of the built projects they design”3 hence they are not trained on how cities work and they end up being “adolescent hobbyists who are selling themselves as public artists.”4

LaCecla did not become an architect but still managed to remain in the field as a consultant and a critic in several international architectural competitions. In sharing his experiences he does not hesitate to be extremely outspoken and blunt about many of the so-called star-architects that crossed his path. What he has to say about them is far from politically correct like when he mentions that Koolhaas’s intelligent realism “uses the misery of the world just to demonstrate how up-to-date he is, how really ahead of everyone else”5 or that “Frank Gehry goes into his studio, screws a sheet of paper into a ball and says to his faithful CAD implementers: I want that. Thus architecture is vaporized”6. Those eloquent examples reveal much truth about the architectural world nowadays and give clues to how “branding” got to be “just another excuse for power’s concentration at the top.”7

 I think it is rather obvious that I enjoyed immensely reading this book and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It is straightforward, wonderfully easy to read and not at all patronising or pretentious. However there is something within it that I am totally opposed to.

Left:The Shard a year and a half ago / The Shard last night (both pics by the writer)

Left:The Shard a year ago / The Shard last night (both photos by the writer)

La Cecla apparently is a close friend and colleague of Renzo Piano. He mentions him a number of times, basically presenting him as one of the few famous architects in the world with a social agenda. In several chapters he praises him mentioning that he has worked closely with him as his consultant and that he believes that Piano is basically the only architect he knows who is not interested in expanding his brand more than he cares about the communities that he affects with his work.

This is where I disagree with La Cecla completely and I will change the subject a bit to state why. Seeing The Shard taking over London’s skyline, scarring irreversibly London Bridge and Southwark and declaring its superiority as the tallest building in Europe, I truly do not believe that Piano’s architectural values are at all what La Cecla makes them out to be. The Shard is a scale-less sleek mountain of a building and its form chooses not to reveal anything about the luxurious apartments and the 5 star hotel that the consortium of Qatari investors that financed it, paid Renzo Piano to design inside it. In most of the interviews that Piano has given, he declares he wanted to create a beautiful building that would dissolve into the air and would offer 360 views from its top to the public. To my opinion this is a load of absurd promotional nonsense. Especially since the tickets for a few minutes of view-watching are already being sold for 25£ each, it is obvious that they are hardly accessible to the public. This massive building totally disregards or rather violates the neighbourhood it is built on thus all the good things that La Cecla has to say about its architect and his previous projects, as far as I am concerned, vanish into thin air. The Shard to me looks just evil and it reminds me too much of Sauron’s eye from Lord of the Rings where all malice springs from.

Left the Shard with the full moon over it/ Right: Lord of the Rings, The Eye of Sauron from where all evil springs from

Left the Shard with the full moon over it      Right: Lord of the Rings, The Eye of Sauron from where all evil springs from

Its position is too conspicuous, if it were in the City or at Canary Wharf in the company of other tall evil buildings it would be more acceptable. But standing smugly on its own, dominating London and gentrifying London Bridge to the point that it dissolves its previous distinct sense of place, it is truly inexcusable.

Going briefly back to the book to conclude, my objection concerning Piano and the Shard does not diminish its value. I still believe that “Against Architecture” is worth reading but as every other book it should be read with a critical engaging mind in order to draw accurate conclusions.

Quotes

Franco La Cecla(2012), Against Architecture, San Fransisco: PM Press

1. Page 45  /  2. Page50   /  3.Page 116  /   4.Page 10  /   5. Page 24  /  6. Page 30  /  7. Page 29

Read architects’ and critics’ views about the Shard in this AR article here

 

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