Posts tagged with "OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen":

In CCA’s “Besides, History,” young firms confront the role of history in contemporary architecture

Before anything can be said about the rhetorics or ideas behind the Besides, History: Go Hasegawa, Kersten Geers, David Van Severen show at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), it must be noted that it is exceptionally beautiful. The entirety of the generous seven-gallery space is filled with a striking goldenrod-yellow carpet, contrasted with the mostly white work. Symmetrically laid out, each room is filled with models, installations, and/or drawings, all finely crafted specifically for the show. On these merits alone, it is a delight to walk through; and yet, as an exhibition, the concepts and projects presented also contain layered, if sometimes unsubtle, architectural conversations.

Besides, History is the fifth in a series of exhibitions produced by the CCA. In each iteration, two practices, often with disparately separate projects, are paired to work together with the CCA’s curators to produce a show. In the case of Besides, History, Tokyo-based Go Hasegawa was matched with Kersten Geers and David Van Severen of Brussels-based OFFICE. A third voice was also added to the mix in the form of the CCA’s extensive architectural archive of drawings, collages, and photographs: The CCA’s Chief Curator, Giovanna Borasi, curated the work of Hasegawa and OFFICE, while Italian photographer Stefano Graziani curated a photographic gallery entitled Through Your Eyes, which acts as an introduction to the larger exhibition. Considering this wide range of strong voices, Besides, History has a surprisingly clear vision.

Works by the Hasegawa and OFFICE are presented alongside each other and selections from the archive. In each gallery a strategic flattening of representational techniques provides a chance to compare the pieces, apples to apples. For example, in one space six projects from each practice were built as 1:100 pure-white models by Hasegawa’s office, while in another room giant curtains are printed with works by both practices in OFFICE’s distinct collaged perspective. Through this method, similarities and differences between the practices become apparent. This same technique is deployed when each firm engages with the historical pieces drawn from the archive.

One gallery presents immense 1:5-scale drawings of sections from both offices. In another, simple framed plan drawings march around the room. Both plan and section galleries are punctuated by historic pieces from the archive, with representative works from the likes of Gunnar Asplund, Aldo Rossi, Andrea Palladio, and Kazunari Sakamoto. Particularly in the plan room, the contemporary works of OFFICE and Hasegawa are presented in nearly exactly the same manner as the historic works. But while this provides a fascinating look into the congruencies and divergences of architecture over time, some may find this aspect of the show problematic.

As more and more architects and academics refocus on the role of architectural history in contemporary practice, there is no sign of consensus on if, or how, it should be used. Unlike postmodernists, today’s practitioners are only loosely referencing history as it fits the needs of their projects. This in itself may not be an issue for many people, but the way in which the works of masters are used in Besides, History is something different. For most, only when the works of OFFICE and Hasegawa are placed immediately next to historic pieces will the connection between them become clear. And even so, that connection could be read less as one of reference and more of curated correlation. Presenting one’s own work in exactly the same way as one presents iconic pieces, side by side, could definitely be interpreted as hubris. But, to be fair, it seems that this was not an intention behind the show. Rather, it would appear that the selection of historical works is driven more by admiration than by appropriation. What architect wouldn’t love to be set loose on the immense archives of the CCA to pick and choose their favorite works to display along with their own?

To this point, Besides, History, as Borasi describes it, is a manifesto. Together Hasegawa and OFFICE are presenting the state of their practices with historical footnotes, which happen to be original drawings by many of the greats. This is made most clear in the final two rooms, which are dedicated to full-scale installations of completed works by both offices. In one space, Hasegawa’s house in Kyoto is rendered in a flat gray material, while in another a portion of OFFICE’s Villa Schor takes the same neutral tone. Once again, this provides an instance to appreciate the similarities and differences between the practices. With only drawings and photographs of the built structures, these rooms offer a needed moment away from historical pieces for visitors to decide for themselves what lines of history either cross or guide the work.

The word “besides” holds the unusual distinction of having two related, but decidedly different, uses. As a preposition, it is used to denote something apart from, or in addition to, something else. As an adverb, it modifies verbs and adjectives to make something a part of something else. At least in the case of this show, Besides, History may be the best way to describe the work of Go Hasegawa, Kersten Geers, and David Van Severen.

Besides, History is on view through October 15 at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1920 Baile Street, Montreal.

How Brussels-based OFFICE uses essential architectural elements to create its unique designs

OFFICE, founded by partners Kersten Geers and David Van Severan in 2002, is aptly located in the multifarious Belgian city of Brussels. Brussels has many guises; it is the de facto capital of the European Union, an official bilingual city, the location of the NATO headquarters, and a magnet for Muslim immigration. Much like the city it resides in, the architectural work of OFFICE requires a close reading from varying vantage points to uncover its multiple appearances. As Geers put it, “…very often things look somehow alike and then you look a bit more carefully and you realize there is something else entirely.” The firm currently has a major retrospective exhibition titled Everything Architecture on display at the Arc-en-Rêve Centre d’Architecture in Bordeaux, France until February 12th, 2017. The show features more than 50 projects and 25 collected art pieces that are related to the spirit and language of OFFICE. Additionally the firm’s multi-faceted approach has won them international recognition with the 2010 Venice Biennale Silver Lion. Geers currently teaches at the EFPL in Lausanne, Switzerland and is also a founding member of the architecture magazine San Rocco. Van Severan is currently a guest tutor at the Architecture School of Versailles. As Geers explained, the academic studio is a place of reflection where you can “…put a flag a little bit further and you can see if your train of thoughts that you had developed till now still holds or whether you have to adjust it.” OFFICE’s success has hinged upon its ability to manipulate essential architectural elements that have existed for centuries. The firm’s designs clearly establish what they call “territories” by creating legible perimeters that directly engage the fundamental inside versus outside dilemma. The reduction of architecture to its perimeter allows for an intensive investigation of the line between, as Geers explained, “Sometimes it’s a window, sometimes it’s everything, sometimes it’s a thick wall, sometimes it’s wire mesh thin…it’s always somehow there.” OFFICE’s consistent and precise application of these primary elements over a series of built projects is rare to find in contemporary practice. “If architecture is about obstructions, if architecture is about organizing spaces, if architecture is more standing in the way then solving things, we should reduce it to relatively simple forms so we can manipulate it,” said Geers. OFFICE’s pervasive collage style perspectives were born out of pragmatic necessity. When the firm was founded the partners “did not have a clue how to use 3D programs and these programs were also very expensive,” explained Geers. The resulting Photoshop collages are constructed with a minimal geometric toolbox producing a sparse aesthetic that helps the viewer focus on what’s important. The collages are produced by appropriating and redrawing concepts from artists. The influence of Ed Ruscha’s flat distorted large sky perspectives is evident in the collage compositions (see project (117) Drying Hall). David Hockney’s Los Angeles pool paintings with their flat planes, vibrant colors and multiplicity of readings are also a critical reference for OFFICE’s work. “In these paintings of Hockney, they are extremely beautiful, they are extremely… I would say joyful up to a point but there is also something very bizarre about them,” said Geers. OFFICE has consciously resisted the contemporary architecture fashions of formal excess, parametrically derived curves and hyper-realistic renderings. The firm’s strict adherence to the revision of elemental forms and the creation of a distinct collage illustration technique has allowed them to create a space for themselves within the field. As Geers noted, there are caveats to resistance: “Of course resistance is relative because you see now in the last few years that, quite frankly many practices have moved closer towards us. So at a certain point resistance becomes a bit idiotic because everybody has to change. If it is a resistance without inner content then it quickly becomes irrelevant.” OFFICE’s approach reminds us that a limited architecture vocabulary can create spatial complexity and a layered enigmatic body of work. OFFICE’s fundamental inquiries will continue to propel the practice and the field of architecture forward. “I think for us there’s the sense of architecture trying to figure out what architecture can do and how it can perform and what are its tools?” said Geers. (56) Weekend House Merchtem, Belgium - 2012 The project’s concept was to “effectively create a weekend house cut away from any sense of context and reality: a mirage.” The existing building at the front of the lot was renovated to a guest house with the long backyard becoming the weekend house extension. To resolve the long narrow lot and to create a clear internalized territory the house became a sequence of four identically sized square rooms enclosed by a 2.63m high wall. From the existing guest house the rooms are aligned as a courtyard, pool house, living quarters and a garden. The project is organized as an enfilade and is viewed as a cinematic, frame by frame experience of distinct spaces. A sliding glass roof can be modified to cover either the paved courtyard or the tropical pool house dependent on seasonal and user preferences. (117) Drying Hall Herselt, Belgium - 2013 The Drying Hall is the epitome of a building without content, where the architecture is reduced to a building envelope; merely a big box. This building’s main purpose is a space to dry potted plants within a larger tree plantation. This programmatic circumstance requires currents of air to enter but at the same time the plants must be protected from rain; therefore the building required a perforated perimeter and a closed roof. This pragmatic solution resulted in the use of perforated steel deck plates in order to create a thin, porous and economical perimeter enclosure. The building’s continuously slanted roof “gives the building multiple appearances from different vantage points,” explains Kersten. (126) Dars, Centers for Traditional Music Muharraq, Bahrain - 2016 The Dar Al Jinaa and Dar Al Riffa are part of an urban renewal project. Each project consists of both a renovation of an existing Dar (‘house’) and a new, added Majlis (‘collective room’). The project’s “ambition is to give a public face to the ancient community of pearl fishers, and their musical and cultural traditions,” said Geers. The Majlis are used as communal spaces for traditional performances. The resulting design solution utilizes a simple structure of round columns and platforms with allusions to Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-Ino. The project adds another layer of complexity by “veiling” the buildings in a thin seamless steel mesh which creates an obscure volume with multiple layers of transparency. The mesh veil also reacts to the region’s hard desert sun by providing cover. In accordance with use the veil can be lifted to allow glimpses of the performances inside. The interstitial space between the mesh and glass façade is cleverly used to locate stairs, sanitary boxes and technical installations. (176) Campus RTS Lausanne, Switzerland – 2014 This building is positioned in the heart of the double campus of EPFL and UNIL, and adjacent to the undulating EPFL Rolex Learning Center designed by SANAA. OFFICE won an international competition for this project and it’s currently in the development phases. Its parti consists of four big boxes that support a disc-like volume that is suspended over the ground. “So in a way it’s one big interior carried by four boxes. Looking at it that way allowed us to endlessly redesign the building without really redesigning it,” said Geers. The suspended disc acts as a continuous interior field which has been designed with the intent of providing maximum adaptability. At the ground floor a glass volume connects the four big boxes and creates a central public foyer where users circulate to the different entrances.