Architecture of Analogy

The Serpentine Pavilion: Zumthor’s Box from Bengal

Posted in Discourse by Cameron McEwan on August 6, 2011

Vertical articulation of hessian fabric and detail”]An austere Swiss agricultural shed has been transposed to the centre of Hyde Park, London. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the Project Context team in this most modest of objects. This year’s 11th Serpentine Pavilion is by architect Peter Zumthor, a timber framed structure wrapped in a hessian fabric and coated in idendenpaint. The fabric is rolled over a plywood surface with thin overlaps that create a vertical articulation. It is rough to touch and my sudden association with this jute thread is now to Bengal and even Dundee…

The linear courtyard plan is skewed from the Serpentine Gallery and reads as a sequence of rectangles, one inside another. With openings shifted horizontally one sidesteps from exposed park-to-path-to-dark corridor-to-enclosed garden, the hortus conclusus by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. A stained blue ledge surrounds the garden and as one looks up, the extreme pitch of the roof frames both the sky and the immediate foliage.

”]With a clear set of oppositions: solid to void, enclosure and exposure, dark to light, solid and unsolid, Zumthor’s black box is an elegant alternative to the busy compositions of previous Serpentine Pavilion’s.

The role of the Serpentine Pavilion has been to offer architects who have not built in the UK a commission to design the temporary structure in Hyde Park and sited on the Gallery’s lawn for the summer months. Zaha Hadid built one in 2000, Oscar Niemeyer in 2003 and Rem Koolhaas in 2006. However with Frank Gehry having built a Maggies Centre in Dundee before the Serpentine, and Zumthor’s house in Devon for Living Architecture underway, perhaps the Serpentine brief requires a further subtle modification.

Route to enclosed garden and view of enclosed garden”]
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Demolition of Hilltown Tower Blocks

Posted in Discourse by Cameron McEwan on August 1, 2011

”]In 2002, two 15-storey tower blocks were demolished in Lochee, Dundee. In 2006, four 17-storey blocks were demolished in Ardler. Yesterday, a further four 22-storey blocks were demolished in Hilltown. Such slabs sit in parallel rows, located in an expanse of concrete, often perceived as monuments to social discontent.

What now for this particular brownfield site in Hilltown, an edge of city centre location? High density housing that reinforces the street, includes shops and community facilities, in opposition to the vertical slabs that do little or nothing for street continuity? No, from one form of social discontent to another, plans are underway for low density, single family homes. The kind that also do little for street continuity and serve only to intensify the sprawl of the city.

”]

After Architect Aldo Rossi: La Biennale di Venezia

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on June 28, 2011

”]A press running off a strip of newborns, digital clocks counting the number of births and deaths, a monitor that constructs a composite face from sixty newborns and fifty-two deceased. Chance is the contraption that Christian Boltanski constructs within the French pavilion at the Giardini. The 54th La Biennale di Venezia takes place at the Giardini, the Arsenale and other locations around Venice. Countries host their own exhibition in permanent and temporary pavilions, presenting a view of contemporary art today. The 2011 (meta) theme is “illuminations,” a theme that “emphasizes the intuitive insight and the illumination of thought that is fostered by an encounter with art and its ability to sharpen the tools of perception,” explains curator Bice Curiger. Unfolding from this was the formal activity of constructing buildings within buildings, or “parapavilions” that are to hold work by other artists, maybe a painting or two… Here, I offer a few of my highlights.

One walks through the labyrinth of metal scaffold of Boltanski’s Chance with the “clock” rooms to either side. The labyrinth is a baby-factory, at the centre is its opposite. The moment of extinction, visualised as a montage of fragments from faces. It is both light and dense, elegant and disconcerting.

Britain is represented by artist Mike Nelson whose pavilion-within-a-pavilion is titled I, Impostor. It is a (another) labyrinthine sequence of low ceilinged, dark and dusty rooms that feel parasitically attached to the pavilion. It succeeds in offering a menacing and unexpected encounter with issues of memory and repetition by transposing a work by Nelson from Istanbul to Venice, and invites further interpretation.

Never a disappointing visit, the Italian pavilion comes complete with dead pigeons, sculptures by Maurizio Cattelan. The birds peer down at three Tintorettos.

”]Rooms-within-rooms continued at the Arsenale. After stepping through the component parts of Son Dong’s parapavilion (a reconstruction of his family home in China) one wanders through the enormous shed of art, pausing to step into side-rooms or other parapavilions. One of which is a James Turrell light and mist show in a slightly curved enclosure, another contains a beautiful film by Elad Lassry titled Ghost.

Gerard Byrne offered some “analogies surveyed and organised into concrete poetry and film forms.” Anyone interested in “analogy” is of course a welcome addition to any exhibition… His work included some back-in-fashion photograms, while Dayanita Singh offered File Room, a taxonomy of storage space which might recall Giulio Camillo’s sixteenth-century Memory Theatre in which one could access the sum of Western thought. More about that in a future post…

At the corner showed a film by Christian Marclay. Titled The Clock it is a 24 hour (predictably) montage of scenes cut from films using time, memory or history as part of their narrative. Although links to notions of time were rather explicit, it was a joy to sit down and work out which film fragment we were watching, before it rapidly moved to the next.

Constructions, film and photographs, where is the paint? Vittorio Sgarbi curated the final instalment of the Arsenale, where he “coordinated” a visual cacophony of a further 200 artists. Titled “L’Arte non è Cosa Nostra” (Art is Not a Mafia), of note were nudes by Isabella Gherardi, cityscapes by Giorgio Ortona, photographs by Guido Guidi and prints by Gianluigi Colin. With work featuring sex, religion, violence and nudity, I completely forgot about my need for a splattering of paint.

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