For Alex Schweder, buildings happen in time. The architect and artist bridges the gap between performance and architecture, suggesting that architecture was always already a field concerned with performance, from the way we shape space to the way it performs on us and guides our interactions with others and the space itself. During Armory Week, New York City’s spring collection of art fairs centered around The Armory Show, Schweder is exploring these ideas of architectural performativity with two different installations in the city. Schweder’s piece Davenports Yawn is on view as part of Collective Design. The installation was inspired by his 2013 piece for the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, Slowly Ceiling, and it continues his use of inflatable architecture. Davenports Yawn is a soft, inviting space where strangers face one another in a moment of respite and architecturally scripted intimacy. Davenports Yawn was curated by Rozalia Jovanovic and made in collaboration with Davide Quadrio at materials manufacturer Alcantara, who commissioned the work. Across town at the Armory Show is My Turn (2018), presented by the Los Angeles gallery Edward Cella Art and Architecture. A collaboration between Schweder and Ward Shelley, the piece premiered as part of Armory’s Platform program, which is dedicated to large, site-specific works. My Turn is a 16-foot wheel with two platforms to be occupied by Schweder and Shelly each day for eight hours during the fair. As its name suggests, the turning wheel requires taking turns. By design, both artists cannot sit on the wheel at the same time. The "my" in My Turn becomes a point of contention. This constant negotiation around the wheel explores the dynamic between the environment, built or otherwise, and humanity. Its structure is one of inherently restricted capacity. The wheel becomes agentic precisely by delimiting the agency of those who use it—here, ironically, its own designers. It begs the question: who (or what) is actually in charge? My Turn looks at the delicate balance of building our world and living among each other, especially in a time of ever-shrinking resources and ever-growing populations. Davenports Yawn and My Turn will be on view through the end of the fairs, on March 11. Davenports Yawn Collective Design Skylight Clarkson North 572 Washington Street New York, NY Through March 11 My Turn The Armory Show Piers 92 & 94 711 12th Avenue at 55th Street New York, NY Through March 11
Posts tagged with "Lisbon Architecture Triennale":
Next week is an exciting one for the architecture community in the Portuguese capital Lisbon. First, there will be an opening for the new Amanda Levete-designed Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT) and the city will host The Form of Form, its fourth architecture triennale. The museum is located in the district of Belem, a beautiful site, on the city’s city waterfront and adjacent to the recently renovated Central Tejo power station. The MAAT and power station will form a cultural campus. The new museum, directed by former MoMA curator Pedro Gadanho, will act as a kunsthalle (not a collection of objects or archives, but a generator of new projects and exhibitions). The MAAT will focus on contemporary culture through visual arts, new media, architecture, technology, and science. Levete's design will allow visitors to walk over and under the building. The Triennale will open on Wednesday, October 5 and take place in nearly a dozen sites around the city. The Architect's Newspaper will be there covering all the events and openings.
The life of an independent architecture curator is always tenuous at best. They develop a concept for an exhibit then pitch it to multiple venues in academia and museums and spend three to four years realizing the project. The financial rewards for such projects are minimal, but usually cover the curator’s costs and allow them a modicum of profit. If the curator is good at doing all it takes to realize their projects—corralling architects to finish installations, creating catalogues, communicating with the media, etc.—they will often be asked to organize and curate a biennale or triennale. Such publically financed exhibitions are extravaganzas of architecture (or they attempt to be) and all of them try to compete with the influence of the Venice Biennale—the first and still the most important of the international architecture surveys. These celebrations are a big prize for the mostly young and aspiring curators who walk the globe, and a rare chance to actually get paid for their work. But the most recent Lisbon Architecture Triennale—Close, Closer—which was curated by Beatrice Galilee, José Esparza, Mariana Pestana, and Liam Young—was a successful attempt to introduce an entire new generation of architects to an international audience. Despite its success, the organization that put the exhibit together has told its curators and designers (some of whom invested their own money in the project) that they will not be receiving their contracted fees. The final dispute ended this month, after a year and half of negotiations. It is true that the Portuguese economy is suffering from the fallout of the Euro collapse, but to decide to cut the fee for a contract two years after the event is unethical and poor behavior, even in the world of architectural exhibitions.
The 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale's emphasis on active workshops, networking and "research" projects rather than architectural set pieces often plays as live performative tableaus. The public focus of the exhibition is indeed an elevated stage in the city's Praca da Figueira (Square of the Fig Tree) where architects are performing plays, encouraging civic engagement with public performances, and programming research workshops. Performance is also the operative scheme in another triennial initiative, The Institute Effect, that takes place the city's Museum of Design. The Museum of Design, headquartered in a spectacular bank space, has given its third floor over to 12 "global institutions of architecture and culture" that are meant to appear at different times during the three month triennial to create "bespoke programs" of talks, debates, hands on workshops, and performances. The day of the opening the space was alive as the Italian firm, Fabrica, was designing and building out the space with tables, shelves, pin-up boards, and graphic designers creating a Phaidon book. The idea here seems to be that as part of this performance activity the "audience" or visitors will be encouraged to intact with the twelve invited organizations (including the C.U.P., Storefront for Art and Architecture, the Strelka School, and the online and database group Spatial Agency) in their programs and together create a record of the event in an ebook. The sort of experimentation and research-based projects featured in this triennial are exactly the sort of activities young firms should be engaging in—particularly in these perilous economic times—as they develop their practices. It's exactly the path traveled by the next curator of the Venice Architecture Biennale, Rem Koolhaas.
I wrote in my first post from the Lisbon Architecture Triennale Close, Closer that it's the first international exhibition that does not need or even want outside visitors. The exhibition's organizer and head curator, Beatrice Galilee, downplays installations and object-making in favor of active workshops, networking, and "research" projects aimed primarily at residents of the Portuguese capital. Galilee calls this idea—that invited architectural exhibitions should no longer be to create and install physical tableaus, but to initiate and carry out localized research—"an alternative reading of contemporary spatial practice." She and her generation of curators is calling for a reengagement of the "social and humanistic" aspects of architecture and these exhibitions' successes or failures depend on how well their research projects engage with local communities and how well it informs these publics about places and events that surround them everyday. The exhibition opened, for example, with a program of "Speech Acts, Body Acts, and City Acts" in a large but under-utilized urban plaza, Praca da Figueira (Square of the Fig Tree), where the Triennale has placed a beautiful circular, tilting stage for public events designed by Mexican Frida Escobedo. The first day included a debate by Lisbon mayoral candidates that brought out residents of the plazas fronting buildings to listen from their window and then a program of performances by Francisca Benetiz, Visible Speech, aimed at the city's Deaf Community using signing experts. In the evening the civic stage hosted Superpowers of Ten by Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation (curated by Jose Esparza Chong Cuy), a play based on Charles and Ray Eames' film of the same name. The play is described as a celebration of "the struggle of inhabiting in and out of the frame, recuperating narratives lost somewhere in the scaling up and in the scaling down of the camera." The first few days of the triennial these events all were seen by a wide variety of of local people crossing the square or sitting in its many cafes and restaurants. It's hard to quantify the degree to which these events truly impact on the city, but they are open and accessible to the public. The impulse to have architects operating in civic space rather than on the drawing board is now, at least, the preferred operative model for young curators and we will likely see more of it in future biennales and triennials.
The Lisbon Architecture Triennale may have aspirations to international importance, but is really more interesting for what it says about the city’s potential as a regional center rather than a world city like London or New York (more on that in my next post). While most of the Triennale’s three major exhibitions take place in large public event spaces, there is one “official” ancillary event in a small commercial art gallery that has something to contribute to the world architecture scene. The show Interiors is at the Cristina Guerra gallery on Rua de Santo António à Estrela, which seemed to be an out-of-the-way residential neighborhood, but I was told that it is the most important international gallery in Portugal. The exhibition features the interior design work of Portuguese architect Pedro Gadanho, who also serves—not always a good idea—as his own curator. But Gadanho has been asking artists for at least 10 years to document his own design work, and has been smart in his selection of collaborators. The work on the walls is allowed to showcase the artists’ conceptions and insights alongside Gadanho’s interior design. He claims his work is about “difference, intimacy, and desire,” and this does come out in the work, which includes a video, two photography installations, and a wall-hung paper construction. While the video by Filipa Cesar carefully and beautifully tracks the minute details of a domestic storage room, the color photographs of Casa Baltasar by Fernando Guerra foreground the details of a house Gadanho designed for a bachelor. In one image, a bright forest-green kitchen leads into a red wall, the entrance for a bright red bedroom shown in the image next to it—just the “desire” of every bachelor’s dreams. There are also two abstract yet architectural images of the Elipse Foundation, designed by Gadanho in 2006, and a seductive, lozenge-like view of a bathroom by Edgar Martin. I have never visited any of the interiors in the show, so am not sure if they fulfill the designer’s claim (this is where an independent curator would have been helpful) to “difference and desire” in his work. But here on the walls of the gallery, the artists aptly make his case for him.
Under the banner Let’s Talk About Houses, the second Lisbon Architecture Triennale opened last night in three different venues around the Portuguese capital. A beautifully renovated electric generating plant featured the results of two competitions: one for the low-income immigrant Portuguese community Cova da Moura, and a second for a house in Luanda, Angola. Meanwhile, a second exhibit on artists working in the realm of architecture is being staged at the contemporary Museo do Chiado (I’ll have more on these two shows in a subsequent post). The most ambitious of the three exhibitions, however, is on view at the Museu Coleção Berardo along the city’s architecturally fascinating waterfront in a district called Belem. Between North and South, as the title of that show suggests, is an exhibition that wants to highlight “housing conditions and new solutions found in various regions of the world.” But it is heavily weighted toward architectural movements and designs in the northern hemisphere, with only a general analysis of urban planning and living conditions in Portugal’s former colonial cities of Recife (Brazil), Luanda (Angola), and Maputo (Mozambique). The northern hemisphere, as conceived by triennale curator Delfim Sardo, begins with a display—or really recreated installation—of housing proposals by Alison and Peter Smithson regarding the House of the Future, their Valley Section Diagram, and best of all, a document of their Patio and Pavilion project created for the This Is Tomorrow exhibition with photographer Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi. I enjoyed these installations, but they seem a slightly arbitrary place to begin a show on northern and southern housing in 2010. Many Portuguese architects, however, claim the Smithsons are little known in the country, and the focus on their “patio and pavilion” concept certainly has a resonance in this Mediterranean-like climate. In any event, rather than focusing on architectural ideas, Sardo smartly preferred to highlight their “inhabitation” by residents. Thus, even in the section on Portuguese housing solutions by Alvaro Siza and Soute de Moura, we are given images of views out of the houses, non-architect designed furniture (the type rarely seen in architectural renderings), and taped conversations by residents of the apartments. But the show really comes alive when one walks into the section titled The Nordic Connection. Curated by Peter Cook, who predictably goes against the grain of the show, the section features no houses but the most colorful and odd (not a glass box anywhere) collection of wonderfully quirky buildings that capture a new young Scandinavian attitude. Cook’s selection includes a playful, flat-packed, and redeployable adventure playground and a magical children’s camp built into rocks and trees, both by Norway’s Helen & Hard Architects. Snøhetta’s Peter Dass Museum and a bright orange exhibition space in Malmo by Tham & Videgard add to the fun of this exhibition. Unfortunately, the show continues with a deadly boring one-room display of Vittorio Lampugnani’s glass-box Novartis campus in Basel. The one revelation for a non-Portuguese viewer was the section on SAAL (Servico de Apoio Ambulatorio Local), a government-supported movement of radical architects in Portugal between 1974 and 1976 that brandished the slogan “Houses Yes? Shacks No!” and fought to create better housing for the impoverished population at the time of the Portuguese revolution. The only problem is that this “utopian” movement really produced very little (none of which was on view in this exhibition) in the way of architecture. Though Alvaro Siza was a participant in SAAL and produced several Porto housing projects credited to the movement, the problem for those who want to deemphasize form in favor of political and cultural analysis and critique is that they often forget architecture. The small part of the exhibition that focused on the southern hemisphere was in fact this type of architectural thinking applied to urban analysis, but while it’s interesting to read on a page and important analytical information, as an exhibition it was barely worth focusing on as a viewer. Had the show started with SAAL as a point of departure to ask all the questions that both formalists and policy analysts in the profession want to focus on today, it would have made a great triennial and Lisbon an important center of architectural thought.
There are so many architecture exhibitions today that call themselves “biennales” and “triennales” that the words have little meaning anymore. In most cases, rather than use the vernacular local word for an every two- or three-year exhibition (say, biannual) they use the Italian word, hoping I guess that the special magic of Venice will rub off on their event. Thus I am in Lisbon, Portugal today for the Architecture Triennale that the organizers are calling “Let’s Talk About Houses.” The largest exhibition in the event at the Museu Coleccao Berardo is made up of six separate and discrete parts. This includes a recreation of Alison and Peter Smithson’s House of the Future projects from 1956, and Houses Yes! Sacks No!, the story of Mobile Local Support Service, a Portuguese movement launched by architects “responding to the struggle waged in the streets by poor residents during the hot summer of 1975.” Finally, there will be installations based on Vittorio Lampugnani’s Novartis campus in Basel, Switzerland; a show on urban development in African and Brazilian cities; and The Nordic Connection on new work in Scandinavia curated by Archigrammer Peter Cook. There seems to be a lot more going on—stay tuned for more tomorrow!