'Seven architects build small spaces'
at the V+A
Commissioning contemporary architectural exhibits for a museum is almost an exercise in contradictions.
Sometimes genuine architectural issues are explored in a thought provoking way and sometimes it just becomes an exercise in filling up the under-used spaces of grandiose institutions with pretentious curiosities.
Without the discipline of satisfying an actual functional requirement, architecture seems to very quickly fall back into mere imagery, or even degenerate into amateur sculpture.
I suspect that much of this exhibition, which opened on Tuesday and which will run to the end of August, falls into this latter category.
As I understand it, the V+A invited nineteen, out-there
, architectural practices to submit projects on the theme of making small spaces. Interesting idea, but when the ideas came in, it seems that predictably they abandoned the whole architectural exploration of small space making thing and just picked the seven most eye-catching objects.
, by Rintala Eggertsson Architects
from Norway is essentially an Ikea-like [their words] stack of shelves built around a staircase. Now a habitable bookcase is an interesting concept, but instead of exploring the spatial possibilities of being filed under the Dewey Decimal system, the architects appear to have become side-tracked by the task of ensuring that the six thousand plus titles accommodated on their hundreds of shelves are all sustainably kosher, as if inadvertently including one Top Gear Christmas Annual
would have invalidated the whole exercise.
by Rural Studio
from Alabama, is another exercise is timber, but thereâ€™s nothing flat-packed or bookish about this one. â€˜Wool Shedâ€™
is a simple, open ended, structure with a steep mono-pitched form, it is earthy and rough sawn . . . and empty, except for a sort of creeper composed of eleven long-life bulbs at the end of white plastic, surface mounted, cable-duct branches.
Emptyness is taken to another level by â€˜Spiral Boothsâ€™
by Vazio S/A
from Brazil. The architect tells us, in the video presentation, that he has written the book on the â€˜voidsâ€™ between buildings and he certainly seems intent on hollowing out a niche for himself by selling the notion that the spaces between buildings are actually urban voids . . . . spaces that we had previously understood to be spaces.
â€˜Voidâ€™ is probably the first piece of jargon that the architectural student picks up. Simple gaps, or uninspired windows in a dull faÃ§ade, can take on the qualities of mysterious anti-matter and a quivering crit presentation be transformed into a veritable dissertation by the use of terms such as â€˜voidsâ€™.
is actually another tower, this time constructed in cold steel [since timber presumably will perish in the void] and to heighten the visitorâ€™s experience both this one and 'Wool Shed'
are located in a darkened room. On entering â€˜Spiral Boothsâ€™
you are immediately confronted by a red velvet curtain which inevitably you pull back to reveal a tiny space with nothing inside. Undaunted you proceed up the steel stairs opening more red velvet curtains on the way to reveal more empty spaces. Nothing different happens at the top so you descend the stairs checking the curtains again in case youâ€™ve missed something.
Back out in the light, a completely different experience awaits with â€˜Beetleâ€™s Houseâ€™
by Terunobu Fujimori
Here weâ€™re looking at a cartoon-like timber tree-house in the Grimm fairytale tradition complete with stove and quirky gables, but charred black with a blow-torch and varnished. Climbing the ladder to peep inside youâ€™re slightly disappointed to find that itâ€™s not actually inhabited by some Pythonesque character from the fertile imagination of Terry Gillian.
Is this a serious exploration of the nature of making small spaces? Possibly not, but it does raise a smile and at least itâ€™s not a feckin void.
Making a serious exploration of the nature of small spaces is what weâ€™re promised with â€˜In-Between Architectureâ€™
, by Studio Mumbai
In the video presentation, weâ€™re brought through the slums of Mumbai where people have created family homes out of minute spaces between adjoining structures.
While I think this one is worthy and probably comes closest to satisfying the theme of the exhibition, I would question the choice of presentation. In making the structure out of ashlar quality cast plaster blocks, the installation seems to doff itâ€™s hat too much to the monumentality of itâ€™s gallery setting and I think this diminishes the potential power in the message that this is the reality of living space for very many people in the developing world.
Missing the point completely, in my opinion, is â€˜Inside/Outside Treeâ€™
, by Sou Fujimoto
[not to be confused with compatriot, Fujimori of the charred tree house above].
First off, I object to the use of the term â€˜Treeâ€™ here. At best this is a squat shrub and, either way, the concept seems remote and unrelated to the prismatic choice of presentation, which in turn is compromised by the crude stitching together of the Perspex panels with plastic cable ties. The earlier concept models suggest that this project was originally heading in a different direction, at least in terms of presentation, but I would still question whether it actually has anything to say.
by Helen + Hard Architects
from Norway, has the benefit of being located outside in the great courtyard of the V+A which, on a sunny day, is the ultimate urban oasis for the pretty and the prosperous.
â€˜We donâ€™t have a particular styleâ€™
say the architects in the video clip â€˜. . . . we are just concerned with sustainabilityâ€™
. . . . . .in the next scene we see the design team picking out some wonderfully weather-sculpted trees on a Norwegian hillside and cutting them down with a chainsaw . . . . to sustained jollity.
To create the installation these Norwegian trees were then sliced lengthways and assembled into a kind of grotesque primeval gazebo with long strands of bent timber glued to the stumps of their former branches and arched over to the other side like a dodgy comb-over . . . sorry . . . â€˜delicate canopyâ€™
Clever slabs of wood chips in net bags mimic weathered rocks around the base, while the inner face is inscribed with tracts from a grim fairytale, or possibly a curse.
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Overall my impression of this exhibition is that once again architecture has been bought and reduced to caricature and once again architects have been happy to participate. Maybe others will find this exhibition stimulating and thought provoking, but I suspect that many will see little more than our old willingness to embrace superficiality at the first sight of an Arts Council grant.