Island: A recent exhibition by the AE Foundation and a note on the category of authorship.
In November the AE Foundation put on an exhibition at Whitespace in Edinburgh of eight new house designs for the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. The exhibition, curated by Samuel Penn and Rowan Mackinnon-Pryde, included designs by, amongst others, Christ & Gantenbein Architects, Raumbureau, Raphael Zuber, and Pascal Flammer.
The project, entitled “Island,” revisits the tradition of using a client to advance the formal and conceptual preoccupations of an individual architect through the design of a private house. The main purpose of the project was to challenge the formal preconception for houses designed for the Highlands and Islands.
Accompanying the exhibition was a book that compiled the house designs and an essay (authored by me), which appraised each of the eight designs then briefly reflected on the category of authorship. My analysis focused on space and form rather than style or experience and was intentionally abstract rather than figurative because this was a way to discuss the shared characteristics of a series of spatially and formally varied designs.
Crucially, another shared characteristic of the architects in the exhibition is their belief in the status of the architect as singular author. This position – the architects authorial role – has suffered in recent years particularly since the turn of this century due to participatory tendencies and of consensus driven design decisions.
What is at stake in current architecture is not new forms (although the production of form is clearly a quintessential critical tool of architecture), but rather the atomisation of the architect-author and the fundamental cultural value of architecture itself. The point here is that the architects social purpose, their intellectual role as critical thinker and their contribution as form giver to society is now replaced by a technocratic and managerial role within the weak pluralist ethos of today.
As the history of architecture shows us, we need committed individuals – uncompromising architects – to produce strong architecture to develop the discipline with a view to overcoming the current architectural impasse.
For details of the exhibition and essay see here: aefoundation.co.uk