Friday, February 27, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The house is imagined as a clearing in the forest, a clearing delimited by two perimeters. The interior perimeter, continuous and transparent, holds the structure. The exterior one, sited at varying distances just beyond the first, is formed from a screen of bamboo.
The space is defined by this double presence, a border that exists as two spaces, fluid and gentle. Instead of presenting an architecture of physical constraints, the design creates intermediacy, a threshold where interior and exterior can be mistaken.
The house exists inside a band of space that varies in width and in the quality of light it receives. In this way, the house is ambiguous – even from inside it you can enjoy the attributes of the outside, pretend that you are living outdoors and thereby feel closer to nature.
Its shape is that of a breath exhaled into the air, always variable and continuous. The entrance to the house operates like a glass funnel, giving you the impression of being inside when actually you are still outside. The eye perceives spaces that are alternately compressed and dilated, an intimation of the act of respiration itself, of a living, breathing organism. In the proximity of such splendorous nature, the house is a space that rolls around itself, that can, like clothing, turn itself inside out. It is a space defined by the changing band that softens the summer sunlight and directs the points of view.
The interior is fluid and continuous, a concrete slab on which the spaces for living have been drawn by an innocent hand, like chalk on a chalkboard. The technical instruments are arrayed like furniture, like people sitting in a forest clearing.
The concrete slab rests on the laminated steel pillars of the inner, glass perimeter; these pillars, placed approximately a meter and a half apart from each other, allow minimum sections of 6x10 cm. The glass is fitted between the pillars, using the steel structure for window frames. This structure at once materializes the glass perimeter and diffuses its structural appearance, emphasizing the linear continuity of the band.
The spatial understanding of the house as a whole permits flexible and versatile functioning. Common spaces, such as the kitchen and the living room, are near the entrance – open spaces with a transparent perimeter that allows for abundant ventilation and natural lighting. Next to the entrance is a small toilet room and wardrobe. The bedroom program has been thought out in such a way as to suit either a family unit or a more loosely associated group of individuals. Four bathrooms serve four rooms, which can be arranged equally as four bedrooms, two studios and two bedrooms and other combinations in between.
The independent structure, sited some meters beyond the perimeter, serves as a utility and storage room. A paved area at the end of the pathway serves as a car park. The rest of the site is split into gardens and gravel walking paths.
In the year 2006, British industrial designer Jasper Morrison presents his ‘museum pieces’ as part of a solo show in Kreo Gallery, Paris. The show consists of a series of minimal cabinets, made of oak and glass, containing bowls, vases and vessels of different shapes and sizes, all rendered in a white material. Under close inspection, these seemingly simple pieces become intriguing. Due to their enigmatic materiality and formal simplicity they distill a sense of consistency, but we can deduce by their profiles and the title of the exhibition itself that the pieces belong to different time periods and cultures. In fact, the objects we observe share a certain essential quality in their volumes that grants them a calm and silent character, further reinforced by the arrangement of the pieces and the starkness of the cabinets that contain them.
In each of these amphorae, bowls and vases, in their succinct geometries based on revolved profiles, we reckon a search for beauty, the kind of quest that runs through generations. In the mute perfection of these objects, in their proportions and curvatures perfected through time –just like the water shapes the stones in the river bed- we are humbled by the works of men with no concept of authorship; men who just intended to continue the trade learnt form their elders with dignity.
The pieces in the exhibition are indeed resin-cast reproductions of works photographed by the designer in his visits to ethnographic museums through the years. The spotless material of the reproductions, with no visible trace of its fabrication process, collapses the different temporal specificities of the original objects and turns them into symbols, out of time. All of these individual quests for beauty then collapse into a single one: the human being’s timeless search for beauty.
This humanistic emphasis and sensitivity towards the epics of the everyday, both unlikely traces of our time, have become in recent years Morrison’s trademark. In the same year of this exhibition Morrison coins the term supernormal[i] as both his corporate motto and design strategy. According to Morrison, design has passed in a short period of time from being an anonymous profession whose effects were meant to go unnoticed to becoming the rowdy accomplice to the marketing departments that flood our lives with objects as garrulous as they are unsatisfactory[ii]. While giving up on generating lasting quality, design focuses today in increasing the visibility of a product, producing objects that destroy through visual pollution the atmosphere of the spaces and rooms which they occupy.
In fact, no matter how desirable the recovery of the normal may seem as a counterweight to the visual culture in which we are immersed, this is highly unlikely to happen. The normal, fruit of a former, less self-conscious age can not be rescued, given that contemporary designers do not count with the innocence which distinguished the artisans and makers of other times. Morrison then introduces the supernormal as a synthetic substitute of normality, as a condensed summary of the formal evolution of the everyday object. Good examples for this are his Plywood Chair for Vitra or the objects designed for Japanese firm Muji. All of these works are attempts at distilling the formal history of an object, which after undergoing exhaustive depuration of its shapes and construction techniques emerges charged with an aura of simultaneous familiarity and otherness.
Parallel to Morrison’s experiments with industrial design, we find architects in his generation who seem to be involved in similar research. In the work of Tony Fretton, Caruso StJohn and Sergison Bates, (all part of the Sudgen House group[iii]), we discover a similar effort to rework an anonymous architecture, chasing the creation of moments of greater intensity within an urban tissue which they strive to leave uninterrupted. It is especially in the work of Sergison Bates in which we find an approximation to building that strongly resonates with Morrison’s ideas. Not only in their rereading of the Georgian terraces in their project in Hackney but also in their subtle manipulation of the industrial types in their house-study project in Bethnal Green, we find what we could consider the distilling of a formal history, an image reprocessed without the slightest irony and an end result that is moving in its domestic and light monumentality.
When observing these works of architecture and others such as the Fulgsang Art Museum by Tony Fretton, we realize that these architects share with Morrison not only a design strategy and an idiosyncrasy, but also that these points of departure manage to find their way into generating similar effects in their works. From the careful reinterpretation of previous images and the strong self-imposed limitations on what can be done in a project, emerge free anonymous objects imbued with great intensity. These objects, loaded with references to our formal culture, but distant from the failed codifications of postmodernism, establish a dialog with us, in a low voice. The greatest achievement of this generation of Brits is the displacement of the effort formerly devoted to author-memorability towards the object itself, which seems to have had a liberating effect on both.
It will be easy for the cognizant reader of architecture to trace the origin of the ideas in this article back to the English postwar, when Wittkowers’s humanism[iv] is filtered through the Smithson’s romantic emphasis in authenticity and the everyday, resulting in the writings of a young Scott Brown[v], who would complete the basic literature for this generation before going astray in the dangerous waters of the seventies and eighties. Nevertheless, it is the potential in these ideas more than its lineage that is relevant for us today. During the last ten years, we, the spectators of architecture, have grown increasingly startled as we witnessed how the star-system’s pyrotechnical muscle increased exponentially, parallel to the swollen benefits of its clients. The current economic crisis seems to point out the end of a way of understanding architecture as spectacle and demands a more mature attitude from all of us.
We can acknowledge that either the concept of supernormal or the Sudgen group’s approximations to a synthetic vernacular derive from a monolithic culture such as the British, and that they may not be directly transposable to other more heterogeneous cultures, without a defined heritage to be revisited. Nevertheless, it seems desirable, today more than ever, to walk this less travelled road which promises at least new and different preoccupations. We have recently seen how the future of the profession seemed to be deposited in the last algorithm of the last animation software, or in the obscure hybridization with this or that other discipline. Now, on the contrary, it feels encouraging to think that perhaps the future of architecture was in itself all along, in the constant remaking of its forms and images. There is an urgency for a new realism.
Jesús Vassallo is a Spanish architect and critic. He obtained his Professional degree from Madrid Polytechnic University ETSAM and a Masters degree from Harvard University GSD.
[i] The term Springs from the title of another exhibition curated by Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison in 2006.
[ii] See Morrison, Jasper and Fukasawa, Naoto, Super Normal, Sensations of the Ordinary, Baden, Lars Müller Publishers, 2006.
[iii] British Group of architects named after the Sudgen House by Alison and Peter Smithson, where they used to meet with certain periodicity in the early nineties.
[iv] Wittkover’s influence on the Smithsons is well documented. Peter Smithson’s first written piece was a defense of Wittkover’s Architectural Principles in the age of Humanism. Also in their main theoretical work, Without Rhetoric, an Architectural Aesthetic, we find them attempting to reconcile Wittkover’s humanistic ideas with the production processes of their time.
[v] Denise Scott-Brown was a student of the Smithsons in the Architectural Association in London, in the mid-fifties.