VERS UN CLIMAT building (with) the unstable
This exhibition features a series of realized projects and an extensive research focusing on the theme of the urban night. Much of our work has been devoted to developing a practice on the intangible dimensions of architecture, including atmosphere and perception. Part of the challenge has been, through the guise of architecture, to translate into built form, recurrent themes of impermanence, evolution, and the uncontrollable, at all times encountering unstable elements. Hence, a recurrent interest in evolving environments: from landscapes to cityscapes. How can such qualities be transposed into built form or a master plan? We have spent several years looking at the ways in which climate, time, light and atmospheric blur influence architectural design. The exhibition at Cornell is the culmination of a show at the Pavillon dâ€™Arsenal (Paris La Nuit, Nocturnal Chronicles 23/56/10 2013) and our book (Nightscapes, nocturnal landscapes, 2009) which both illustrate the nocturnal face of architecture, proving that buildings, like light, have the capacity to evolve, change, fluctuate and perform as active participants in cities. Each of the works featured here can be understood through the lens of an experiential quality: atmospheric blur, the effects of light, multiple-layers of meaning and interaction, illusory perspectives depths, and framing of views which create a surprising sequence of experiences. This soft performance of architecture also refers to the process of smoothing physical reality with other subtle aspects of culture such as art, cinema, philosophy, and landscape. We have invited three kaleidoscopic writers to explore, in unexpected ways, these issues and engage in discussion about our practice and architecture as an experience - spatial, emotional, sensual - rather than as a direct functional answer to a situation or even an image.
AWP / Marc Armengaud, Matthias Armengaud, Alessandra Cianchetta
vers un climat building (with) the unstable roger connah, sam jacob, rowan moore awp / marc armengaud, matthias armengaud, alessandra cianchetta
august 26 - september 20, 2013 john hartell gallery opening reception: september 16, 5 p.m.
poissy galore carriĂ¨res-sous-poissy, fr
vers un climat building (with) the unstable awp marc armengaud, matthias armengaud, alessandra cianchetta
Nuance Galore: And Not Only At Night! by ROGER CONNAH
Roger Connah lives in the Hotel Architecture, Ruthin, North Wales. He has travelled and taught globally for over 4 decades. Winner (with John Maruszczak): Revenge of the Lawn, White House Redux, Storefront, New York 2008; Associate Professor and currently Associate Director of Graduate Studies, Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. His last work is the 10 volume Deschooling Architecture - The Anti-Library (FadDesign House, Montreal 2014) including: 1 Architecture Degree Zero (2008) 2 Pulp Architecture (2009) 3 A House for de Kooning’s Friend (2009) 4 Aalto-Ego (2011) 5 The Irresponsible Self (2011) 6 The Brautigan (2012) 7 Life After Architecture (2012) 8 Deschooling Architecture (2013) 9 Headless (2013)10 iDeath (2013). Other publications include: We Let the Goldfish Go (2014); Being:An Architect (with Ian Ritchie, RA 2013); The Rest is Silence (2011),The Piglet Years (2007); I am Architecture (ed. 2006); Finland (2005); 40 Young Architects from Finland (ed. 2002); Aaltomania (2000); How Architecture Got its Hump (2001); Grace and Architecture (1998); Welcome to the Hotel Architecture (1998); The End of Finnish Architecture (1994) Writing Architecture (1989).
part 1 Familiarisation “Tell the story all the same,” said Adamsberg, looking affectionately at his deputy, and sensing fear in his reluctance. In Danglard’s mind, for all he was an authentic atheist, not inclined to mysticism, superstition could still find a clear way in, by taking the broad pathways of his perpetiual anxiety. Fred Vargas The Ghost Riders of Ordebec (2013)
This refusal to compete with slogans goes on. If I had to hazard a guess for an innovative and challenging architectural practice in the 21st century it might well take the shape and dynamics of the Parisian practice AWP (Agence de Reconfiguration Territoriale). Even the datached language is precise but hardly pretentious, refusing to compete with the slogans a professional architecture would ordinarily imply. Instead: this refusal implies re-framing. It recalls the wish for clear intrigue in a discipline like architecture that, perhaps, the original Modernism let slip. Where and when did we lose the somewhat delicate and desired world of dreaming, that clarity of the blurred condition? Reconfiguration implies new identities and atmospheres of space and place, an attempt - as noted - to maintain after realisation the dynamism with a potential to evolve thorugh time and change of use. Ecologies may be fragile and more so because of global and political misdemeanour but they can be strengthened and architecture has its role; infrastructure is hard, it is the glue, memory and sensations are soft but by no means secondary to the architectural intelligence which softens the voyage out. Let us be clear: this is a new narrative, but how? For some years now I have been following the work of Fred Vargas, the French historian and archeologist who writes captivating novels about a cloud-shovelling French Commissaire of Police called Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his somewhat brilliant, all-knowing but rigid Commandant Danglard. It was inevitable that this reading would collide with my understanding and appreciation of this innovative and challengingly precise Parisian practice. Just as Vargas’s novels are about naunced detection and very carefully dreamed solutions, the Office for Territorial Reconfiguration is about architecture of course, but holds much more than that. Direct experience not only seeks the phenomenological situation for each project but dislodges the process with sequences of perpetual stumulation. In all sense cinema, at all scales architecture, where architecture can intervene kaleidoscopically and atmospherically. Until, in city and chapel, community or garden, like a detective with a strong, often unstable hunch, this is the imaginary geography that articulates our approach and invites us in. And if we think Vargas might offer us the eccentric edge of this century, it should come as no surprise to think the novelist Virgina Woolf would take us back to the pivotal years of the 20th Century. It is impossible not to bring them together. Let us not lose sight of the last century and the alchemy that many professionals and critics wished to make of it as we rethink an engaged and committed practice for this century. It may appear odd, even untimely, to introduce such a practice by referring to Vargas at the same time as mentioning Virginia Woolf. Often it appears our language and our common reference worlds have become disguised in the stable spectacle of contemporary architecture. Opting for a realm of possibility and performance, the artist or cineaste framing action, we are challenged today to travel but not arrive. We are invited to leave issues and construction unresolved but in no negligent manner. Instead any adopted materiality must dare to be something else; this is a drama – the word is precise - that respects impermanence, not in terms of whether architecture itself can still emerge triumphant but in terms of knowing just what can remain unrevealed and what vocabulary is in need of rescue. Consider temporality, performance, perspectives, illusions, curiosity, ambience, flux, redistribution and promenade and we are already invited into the cine-narrative of this inventive practice. But put these alongside the cloud shovelling words that we are often advised as critics and commentators to stay away from; hospitality, sensuality, sensoriality, generosity, and openness. There is little doubt that – over the last two or three decades - the tectonic games of digital imaging practices have offered architecture of the contemporary spectacle a wayward set of signs; the iconic has been dislocated. Space, the unfurling of the in-between, the crossover from territory to landscaspe, when put through the exercises and experiments AWP carry out turns this back on itself. Replace iconic with dramatic; let’s not pull back from taking our own critical risks. Architecture: the voyage out, night or day, a room of one’s own. In a recent song from The National (2013) called Graceless, there is an irresistable line that pulls us up short: “there’s a science to walking through windows.” The sweep and curve of much contemporary architecture takes no real eimence when it comes to the iconic. Dialogue goes further, the tectonic drama is not our only refuge. There is indeed a science to walking through windows and we need to find it. Our critical challenge is clear: we are invited to reconsider the ‘remarkable’. When we hear the words ephemeral, unfinished, partial, or even zero energy, we are actually being invited to learn how to live, or live again, in both the hard and the soft, in infrastructure and script. Space itself can be iconic; weightless and dramatic, kaleidoscopic, atmospheric! We are offered this; then it is up to us. Traces are accessible and interactive; new interpretations, with phenomenological cunning, invite new sitings. Stylistic elegance is not forbidden but it is interrogated too, nowhere better than in Norwegian Wood, the urban lantern in Stavanger. Lennon and Murakami; you have to smile if not laugh outright. The atmosphere is infectious, on the ground or in the air. It is too easy to describe the approach as a diagram for diversity. Interdisciplinary is itself a hospitable process; it can caress symbol into new use, and confrontation
Part 2 De-familiarisation into creative encounters between sign and narrative. We once had a dream or shoud we say, it once had us. Critical atmospheres might be a useful invention. Reflection not reflex, this is a particular relation between thought and action. It works so well in architecture at all scale because it, rightly, seduces us to think we can go beyond residual activity, but at the same time it knows architecture needs all the residual and the unstable it can accept to remain open, evolving and remarkable. This is what is implied when we see the re-workings become form; when romance is re-activated. As Cianchetta writes, “we are constantly moving from natural scale ‘teasers’ to long term larger scale projects, matching experimental tools with anlayticals ones of architecture and master planning, aiming to reveal new possible territories and to re-activate the idea of ‘desire in them, bringing a state of enchantment back to the cities.” Adaptive re-use: let’s not remain so quotidian. From deep teasers to long-term larger scale projects, this bird has flown! What are we doing here? We are putting thought in relation to its own inevitability. The 20th century may not be far behind us, but the re-composition strategies are ours, with a responsibility that belongs to such practices. If AWP move from exercising precise territorial games in a water plant, an urban park or a hight street, or then suggesting new cartographies of the night, it is not so much the projects, themes, scales and experiments are energetically innovative, they are of course. It is the process they measure to remain open and the communication they take on. Language again is our key; this is deeply trollish in its adventure and crossed with the research that each member of the practice brings, the results are always unusually workable. We are not speaking only of transformation here, which pits the predictable codes of an expected architecture against unfamiliarity. Here AWP play deeper game with symbol and space, icon and drama, research and redux, a deeper seriousness with openness and atmosphere. Frame and re-framing, it is cinema itself that AWP use to their advantage. Devices cunningly and critically layered one across the other are mapped and then insinuated into architecture producing an atmosphere we have lost, even in recent cinema. Cinema, when re-framed, when accepting the accidental narrative, is precise enough to hold the hospitality and generosity this practice seeks in all its legibility and flexibility. And cinema when atmospherically unfastened, as in Antonioni, is fleeting enough to hold all the architecture and concepts attempted the legibility of the host, and the liberation of the hosted. Always a potential alternative in any scenario that can dare to remain in flow, but not unhinged. Where are our new critical adventures to validate the water plant as script and scenario, not of urban crime but intrigue? This is not the gossip of being, it is careful re-framing, where thinking and action belong as much to the planner as they do the cineaste. Brittle as Antonioni, these are atmospheres that leave us breathing more easily without letting go of the anxiety necessary to remain alert. It is less known that we breathe differently in different spaces, yet we are re-informed through desire. This function is high on AWP’s index of interfering with the familiar. Dwelling and architecture are here being only gently tamed (but not too much!) into a serious of under-written works. This is an architecture life shared, as much as it is the undoing of labels, exposing the familiar and falsity involved in easy definitions and solutions. AWP is a practice that collaborates, that consults, that colludes. It is a contemporary 21st century practice whether working with the usual suspects: Arup, Foster, Rogers, Perrault, Zagari or HHF. This is, in official terms ‘a landscape and public space consultancy’ – in unofficial terms, these atmospheres created are essentially critical fictions that we need to bring back into architecture. If I had to echo a community amongst which I see these partners operating, it would suggest a gentle leap back to the work of Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle/Workshop for Potential Literature): the supple and juxtaposed inventive scripts and atmospheres of Calvino, Matthews, Queneau and Perec. AWP in a short period of 10 years have set up a compelling Workshop for Potential Architecture. And for that greater community, a critical indulgence that we should embrace I would include the following for starters: Antonioni, Godard, Allen and Almodovar, Cortazar and Gombrowicz, Ashbery and Adonis, Viola, Baldessari and Elliason; Vargas and Woolf (of course!). Stable and unstable elements, the rhythm of the hard and the soft and experiences and feelings all have a habit of returning to architecture and space. In a way they return to where they originally belong. If this is a critical fiction, then let’s have more of them. If architects and the loose phrases we use for this still confused discipline and profession are to be listened to, to be commissioned for issues we think unresolvable and difficult, it will be because of the work of a practice like AWP. This is cutting agency; it resonates with Virginia Woolf in such that it allows the unresolved and the unclear to remain precisely unresolved, an unmeant world, unrevealed even at times, but nevertheless experienced. Nuance galore: and not only at night!
A very thin line of shadow tapered on the horizon, scarcely thick enough to stand the burden of Paris, which nevertheless rested upon it. They were free of roads, free of mankind, and the same exhalation at their freedom ran through them all. Virginia Woolf The Voyage Out 1915
Whatever city I visit, whatever capacity we take on in a life of architecture, the solitude in contemporary architecture can so easily turn into a new loneliness. In conversation, in discourses that come and go, all is concealed. The camera crew enter and set up jib and dolly, take haunting images sequences; the buildings materialize in the relentless sun and then de-materialize in the night when nuances take a walk on the wild side and details change place with structure. We used to know ourselves, and what sort of architects, or professors or critics we were. Was it the one who still visits cities like Murcia in Southern Spain, tracing the Moorish influence, and writes papers about lost narratives? Or then the one attending the obligatory but stunning museum (The Salzillo Museum) and stopping for a cañas and tapas at the height of the sun. The architect is interviewed, in the kitchen, in the hammock, in the pool. The lights come on. New lives are illuminated, dreamed up; we don’t so much start again as space is reconfigured, territory sensualised, and the terraces merge with the city’s slopes, and the trees hold new constructions from where we take new vantage points. And the recipes for olives continue to develop. The other professor, the one who returns to nothingness, reads Virginia Woolf’s first novel The Voyage Out. Intense, relentless self-analysis spreads out before us a new compendium for this century; where the people we meet, the conversations we have, the places we visit, the familiarities we relied on, are rewritten, de-familiarised. In the voids, in the constructed dreams we inhabit it is impossible not to be dismembered yet reconfigured. In the haunting analysis of the unresolved, we - and this includes architects - disappear into early Camus and Sartre. It is not so much James Joyce we return to any longer but the narrative that can no longer offer narratives for the future. This is not apocalyptic; walls are stripped back in the Arab district of this imagination; buildings treated with henna celebrating the impermanence of new histories appearing before us. Rivers not so much dried out as controlled at source, never to reach the sea. How can this be the professor invited to prepare a small document about a practice he considers offers a new intelligence for architecture? What codes must he use to convince anyone of this and what currency to dream and perform differently can be allowed into the constructed world? By all means put infinity on trail, invent environmental and metaphorical filters, but with what success? To judge by the complimentary alchemy of the three members of this practice, Matthias and Marc Amengaud and Alessandra Cianchetta, we are being tempted into a way of writing about architecture and architects that has no model, has not so far been followed or established. We are invited into the contract that they themselves take. Are we to punish the pretence of scholars for extending their imaginations to others who cannot quite achieve it in the same way? What then does this practice mean to me? In a bar called Gran Rhin on Piazza San Pedro in Murcia I pause after the Salzillo Museum for a beer. Two small but no less weighty pieces of octopus are served as tapas, cut from the dish lying under the counter where the octopus is soaking in beer. These two pieces are served with a lemon drizzle. Of course we must remind ourselves. We have tasted so much of our lives before yet we must still allow ourselves repetitions which can and must extend the nuance of nothingness that we fight. This can hardly be the text required and yet, it is significant. The materiality of the octopus, soaked first in beer, cooked slowly then slightly roasted in the oven has the spendour of impermanence. Someone, somewhere, knows, where the resolved becomes the unresolved to be desired. I imagine the work of this practice not so much explained by this as resembling this intelligence they bring to architecture. The special alchemy can be read from page to project, from ‘patronym’ to ‘paysage’. Different skills must question the intelligence of what we still address as the architectural program. Cross-platforming is embraced. Philosophy tests the mapped world, as the mapped world questions the potential of the constructed world. It proceeds like this text. I begin with no intention of calling in a bar in central Murcia and conclude with observations about an architectural intelligence. Without knowing it we have gone through Vargas, Woolf, Joyce, T S Eliot, Camus and Sartre. We may even now have met the cloud shovellers from Vargas’ idiosyncratic commissaire, JeanBaptiste Adamsbert. I end with a plea not just for this trio, for the materiality and dramas of the impermanence they offer, even their own impermanence, but a suggestion how it is they bring this currency, what we can call a constructed ambience or any other phrases we invent to remember them by. The obvious: it is not the language which will offer the merit, or the significance, but the intelligence that this practice so consistently crossplatform in ways the 21st century now begins to understand as its own difference from the 20th century. “Silence fell upon one,” Woolf writes in The Voyage Out, “and then another, until they were all silent, their minds spilling out into the deep blue air. The way seemed shorter in the dark than in the day; and soon the lights of the town were seen on the flat far beneath them.” Night and Day: which way is shorter for architecture? Neither. Inseparable! Roger Connah Murcia, Spain/ Ruthin, UK. July 2013.
we live half at night by SAM JACOB
Sam Jacob is a director of awardwinning London based architecture practice FAT, whose clients include Selfridges, BBC and Living Architecture. His work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, MAK Center, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Jacob is design critic for Art Review, contributing editor for Icon, and columnist for Dezeen; he is also a professor of architecture at UIC and director of Night School at the Architectural Association. He edits Strangeharvest.com.
Because the night belongs to lovers Because the night belongs to lust
If we learn anything from pop music it’s that the night is much more than the time between the sun setting and rising. As the sun falls below Earth’s horizon, the planet turns its face to the darkness of space. It’s own shadow chases across its surface, fringed on either side by twilight and dawn. But the space in between these solar terminators - the space we call night may as well be another world. Pop music talks of night as a human rather than cosmoligical subject. Through it’s forever-adolescent intensity it describes night not as a function of orbits and axial spin but as a psychological state, a condition that falls upon us. Seen through pop’s lens, night is a synthetic thing. Not just a duration of time but also a space. It’s a place we occupy: the synthetic night of the city street, the neon glow of a nightclub, the shadows in which we explore desire and longing.
Some people call it a one night stand But we can call it paradise
The tyranny of day holds our identity fixed. We traipse to work, fulfill familial duty, perform as citizens. But undercover of the night we can escape from the responsibilities and roles that the day enforces upon us. We can become other kinds of creature. All those sublimated psychological sensations, of identity, fear, possibility buried during daylight hours rise to the surface.
As electricity crackles through wires that snake invisibly around listed monuments, filaments and diodes begin to glow. Beams, points, and washes of light are cast over the city in a shock and awe charm offensive.
Night is the site of existential angst and fleeting pleasures. But night is also something we make. It’s the place where we construct scenarios like romance and plots. It’s a space of possibility where we can rewrite the certainties of day. We can re-invent ourselves and we can reinvent the world. At this point it becomes not only a phenomenon but an architectural project. The architecture of nighttime colonises the darkness. It transforms the planet’s shadow into sites of culture, work, politics and leisure. And as it does, it writes a hyper synthetic version of itself into the gloom. Just as the night allows us to become versions of ourselves, to explore psychological fantasy so with architecture. Strangers, waiting, up and down the boulevard Their shadows searching in the night
Rowan Moore is architecture critic of The Observer. He was formerly director of the Architecture Foundation, London, architecture critic of the Evening Standard, and editor of Blueprint. He was a founding partner of ZMMA architects. His book Why We Build, about the interaction of architecture and human desires, was published by Picador in September 2012.
As dusk falls on this charming scene, we can watch the full deployment of high technology unfurl across the ancient stones of history. As the daylight fades, our view of the city changes. The background town fades to a shadowy supporting role as the city’s stars begin to shine.
Because the night belongs to lovers Because the night belongs to lust
Think of that feeling at the end of a long night when the sun rises and suddenly a realisation as well as a day dawns upon you. As that giant yellow orb breaks above the line of the horizon the world becomes visible again. Form, mass, space, colour, texture all return in the shared space of daylight. And that intimate, private world of possibility evaporates under the glare of the sun.
IMPERMANENCE by ROWAN MOORE
As you walk through a European city, you’ll often find yourself entering a strange zone, a place where time seems to both fast forward and rewind and the same time. You can feel it underfoot as tarmac and concrete slabs give way to cobbled granite. Maybe you’ll pass through a set of bollards that pedestrianise streets with a tourist-permeable barricade erected against the raging torrents of contemporary life. The features of contemporary city are all there, only somehow different. Shop signs, for example, are captive behind plate glass windows, their neon-lit graphics peering out at the heritage zone they have been banished from. In those Dorian Grey enclaves designated as heritage ghettos the fabric of cities has seemingly cheated the passing of time.
All buildings are temporary, said Cedric Price, but some are more temporary than others. He was right – for all that architecture seems to be about completion, certainty, fixity and permanence, buildings are subject to physical and perceptual change and eventual disappearance. In saying this Price articulated a central theme of the reaction to classical modernism which, from Archigram to Parametricism, has been going on now for more than a half-century. What these movements have in common is a desire to animate the infuriating massiveness of built form, to design for dynamism and change. AWP also talk about impermanence and instability, but in different ways. They give priority to the idea of “climate”, of sensory and perceptual experiences that are fundamental to the inhabitation of the built environment, but often overlooked. AWP’s materials include, without privileging one over another, vegetation, light (artificial and natural), water, sound, temperature, the space between objects, and composition, as well as the more usual concrete, steel and timber. They are not afraid to create fixed structures, but always as means to an end, as instruments for enabling certain kinds of inhabitation or atmosphere. They work with instability that is both actual – the fact that a space might be occupied and altered in unforeseen ways – and perceptual, the creation of buildings that look as if they might fall over or evanesce, but don’t. AWP’s masterplan for La Defense raises the radical prospect that these concepts can be applied to a project costing over 300 million euros, and to a huge and apparently intractable megastructure. The subtle substances with which AWP work might seem delicate for such a situation but, in a place where rigidity is the problem, they are essential. Nor should an appearance of fragility obscure the fact that there is an underlying toughness in the architects’ approach. The work at La Defense was to some degree anticipated by two previous projects, the renovated park for the Lille Metropole Modern Art Museum, and the series of pavilions designed (with the Swiss practice HHF) for the Parc des Bords
These lights aren’t simply street lights, there to help us see. They are more like those purple lights in McDonald’s toilets that make it impossible for junkies to pick out a vein. These are lights that both show and hide, there to make us see differently, to see, in some cases, something that might not even be there. Out to the electric night Where the bass line jumps in the backstreet lights
These lights wring every nuance out of a structure. Buildings, bridges, monuments become exaggerations of themselves, dragged up versions verging on parody and caricature. Every surface modulation, every crag and protrusion is exaggerated, set in hotspot highlight or deep shadow. They are flushed with camply theatrical techniques. Underlit, for example like an expressionist horror film, the capitals and monuments of Europe gurn like B movie hams. Others seem to spontaneously phosphoress, made luminous by unseen sources. It’s as though someone has pulled the focus or changed the depth of field and set the city in a high definition ultra 3D version of itself.
history alchemises into a holographic mist of photons, into a haze so immaterial that you feel like your hand could pass through it. Tonight the light of love is in your eyes Will you love me tomorrow?
The irony is that these historic scenes are rendered in a way that makes them entirely contemporary. They are visions that their authors, say Christopher Wren or Peter the Great could hardly recognise. Europe’s historic fabric, reconstructed after Blitz, polished and bleached to pristine newness, is where we imagine we can viscerally experience history. But it is only the sensation of history, the contemporary idea of what history might look and feel like. Instead of connecting us to the past, we find ourselves in futuristic fictions of the past. This sensation of civic heritage is nothing like real heritage at all. It’s a barrage of effects calibrated to make you feel the sensation of heritage. Heritage is manufactured out of the combination of technology and night. The conceptual space that night offers is the space to re-invent our cities with narratives impossible during the day, when their true state is revealed. Then I get night fever, night fever. We know how to do it.
Yet the image of the city at night remains with us like a dream that we can’t shake. The fantasies of the architectural night don’t vanish when the sun rises. Rather, they ghost themselves into our total conception of architecture, into our expectation and understanding of the city. Even under the noonday sun, for example, night’s mirage of heritage remains a filter through which we imagine the stones of the city. The architecture of the night is of extreme fantasy, a neon hallucination. But it’s precisely in its synthetic nature that it fulfills architectures potential to write cultural fictions into the world. Despite (or perhaps because of ) its flicker and glow, this is where architecture manufactures its double image, an equally real twin of the daytime re-written through psychologies of love, fear and desire. We’re up all night ‘til the sun We’re up all night to get some We’re up all night for good fun We’re up all night to get lucky
Sam Jacob. London, UK. July 2013.
The effect can be a totalising transformation of the city from physical stuff to a ghostly image, re-editing the city’s fabric into an imaginary state. The material bulk and weight of
de Seine in Poissy. The two have a similar purpose, to create within a given territory a range of atmospheres, a climate, but they use opposite means. Whereas, in Poissy, a series of distinctive pavilions are to be constructed, the architects’ involvement in Lille is, at a casual glance, close to invisible – it is a matter of editing and re-orienting, of eliminating as much as adding, of disposition, planting and lighting rather than building new structures. In Poissy “follies” will be disposed across the landscape, some of them serving purposes such as restaurants and a visitor centre, some of them with no more function than to be places from which to look at the view, or to be explored in their own right. With their pitched roofs, they refer to some kind of domestic normality, almost-gemutlich, but they also have an uncanny hollowness. They are made to look as if their structure “doesn’t really work,” as Alessandra Cianchetta says, “as if they might fall”. They are ambiguous too, part suburban house, part tower, partly referring to the barges and aquatic structures in the nearby river Seine. This is instability in its perceptual form. Through repetition of their quasi-generic look, and through their spacing, the follies create frames for their environment. Like framing and composition in art, they provoke interaction. Or, better, and to use a comparison liked by AWP, they resemble framing in movies, in that they encourage particular ways of seeing and moving through a place. Cianchetta cites cinematic framing as an inspiration for the Lille park, in particular by Antonioni in Blow Up, and in his long slow tracking shot in The Passenger, which moves from inside to out to in. At Lille the role of the park is to be an outdoor gallery for artworks, that extends and complements the museum’s indoor collection, and so the vegetation is seen as a green/grey, “monochrome” equivalent of the white walls of galleries, “neutral enough to make the sculpture stand out, but also vibrate”. It was a matter of “redefining the topography”, of eliminating distractions, and choosing new plants for their textures, their qualities of light, and the sounds they
make in the wind. Together the aim is to make a “hyper nature” or a “more intense nature”. “Plants are just another material,” says Cianchetta, “like concrete, leather, or cashmere.” Decisions you might not notice have a profound effect: the sculptures, for example, are not lit directly, which gives them a ghostly presence at night. Architecture here is something that overlaps with other disciplines, with film, art, landscape design, and couture. It is something that can be experienced obliquely, without knowing it is there, even as the option is also used, as with the Poissy structures, of making it visible. And then there is their fascination with night, manifest in a book, in an exhibition and in their concern with nocturnal environments in the Lille park and other projects. At La Defense they promise to make out of artificial light “a structure in its own right”, “an architectural and urbanistic gesture”, “a luminous environment”. Where classical and modernist architectural discourse habitually favours sunlight, AWP are fascinated by the creation, through artificial light, “of a temporary city, a temporary space, and a particular form of nature, at a particular time.” The La Defense masterplan combines concrete and pragmatic proposals, such as the recovery of tens of thousands of square metres of forgotten space, with techniques for structuring the intangible, such as lighting and the particular atmosphere of the place (“ a lot of air, wind, minerality; not welcoming but not suffocating.”) Impermanence is embraced, but not in the Archigram way of making buildings walk. Rather it is understood both that some parts of habitable space are more slow-moving than others, and how much of architecture exists in addition to the fixed and solid. The important question is how these elements – slow, fast, hard, soft, intangible, solid – interact.
Rowan Moore. London, UK. July 2013.