Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

It’s gone relatively quiet here, because I’m now involved in other projects. You can watch our progress over at the Studio 9 wiki.

For your information, from the Alternative Architectural Praxis blog…

Alternate Currents  is a major international symposium which looks at alternative forms of architectural praxis. The symposium will present a range of ideas from around the world which propose new and reflective ways to conduct architectural practice. Many of the speakers start from a critical position with regard to the normative models of architectural practice and the values embedded in it. Whether from political, social, gender or theoretical standpoints, the speakers propose innovative ways of thinking about the future of architectural practice. The symposium is open to all and is particularly relevant to practitioners and students interested in alternative ways of operating.

The symposium will be held in Sheffield and runs from 10.00am on 26th November to 5.30pm on 27th November. There is no charge, but it will be necessary to register for the event. The symposium is part of an AHRC funded research project, Alternative Architectural Praxis, being conducted at the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield by Jeremy Till and Tatjana Schneider.

Speakers
_Tessa Baird, Anna Holder, James Wakeford / London
_Jens Brandt / Copenhagen
_Carolyn Butterworth + Sam Vardy / Sheffield
_Jonathan Charley / Glasgow
_Prue Chiles + Leo Care, BDR / Sheffield
_Pedro Gadanho / Lisbon
_Emiliano Gandolfi / Rotterdam
_Mathias Heyden / Berlin
_Andreas Lang, public works / London
_Maria Lucia Malard / Belo Horizonte
_Ruth Morrow / Belfast
_Andreas Müller / Berlin
_Constantin Petcu, Doina Petrescu + Helen Stratford / Paris/Cambridge
_Jean-François Prost / Montreal
_Colin Ripley / Toronto
_Flora Samuel / Bath
_William Tozer / London

Keynote
_MOM/ Belo Horizonte/Brazil

Apologies for not posting anything for a while; the project is progressing rapidly, and the final text will be submitted in just over two weeks time. I enjoyed an interesting conversation with Ben Katchor in New York City a few weeks ago, and after some time and space to think about the project (while piloting a white Mustang convertible around the American mid-west) it’s now time to get my head down and finish writing the damn thing.

I’ll bring you more news of the hard slog in the coming days. I’m now back in Sheffield and starting my courses here for the sixth and final year of my architectural education. It’s good to be back, but after all this time, the freshers look even younger than ever. I must be becoming part of the furniture.

I don’t believe that the omens are good for my career as an interviewer. As you may know by now, I was involved in a car crash en route to interview Joost Swarte and Henk Döll in the Netherlands. While I haven’t been involved in any road traffic accidents getting here, to New York City where I’ll be interviewing Ben Katchor later this week, I have lost all my luggage. My one piece of checked baggage disappeared somewhere in Philadelphia International Airport, never to be seen again. Unfortunately all my research notes and dissertation papers were inside my bag, as well as two well thumbed copies of Katchor’s books Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer.

On the one hand, this is extremely frustrating, not least because I’ve now been wearing the same clothes for 48 hours, and it’s extremely hot and humid here in Manhattan. On the other hand, it’s a worthwhile vindication of this blog, which has acted as a digital backup of virtually all my work up to this point. If the hit counter starts to spin in the coming weeks, it’s probably not because the blog is becoming more popular, simply that I am using it more in my own research to retrace my steps through my research.

I’m hoping to meet Ben Katchor towards the end of this week. Part of the interview might appear as a forthcoming podcast, and excerpts will also emerge here in due course.

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With the end of year shows in Britain’s architecture schools all now done and dusted, I was a little late coming across an article in the architects’ weekly newspaper BD (10 August 2007) entitled A Sense of Adventure (registration required). The feature examined a number of projects from the cream of this year’s graduating diploma students in architecture. One project that caught my eye in particular was a house of sorts by Dundee School of Architecture graduate Paul Maich.

This project for “cognitive dwelling” is framed by an elaborate quasi-autobiographical narrative. Paul Maich establishes five characters — the insomniac, the inventor, the miner, the amnesiac and the recluse — each of which corresponds to an aspect of his own character.

The cognitive dwelling itself is a freestanding brick volume laced by a labyrinthine sequence of passageways which seeks to embody these different character traits.

“This is essentially my own existential Soane Museum,” says Maich. “It is an architectural personification of character. The design exercise questions whether existence and experience can be transposed into architectural form; a personified architecture.”

Within the narrative, Maich is murdered in his own building by one of the five characters and a police investigation ensues, deftly illustrated by a storyboard-like arrangement of scenes.

“This is a project that illustrates the ambiguities between architecture and art,” said Jeremy Dixon.

“It would sit very happily in an art gallery both as a piece of sculpture and a thoroughly sinister narrative. The graphics pull out the dark elements of the story very dramatically and sit alongside the enigmatic brick object in a way that stays in the memory.”

The article teases us with a few frames from the sequential narrative of the final project presentation. The use of extremely tightly rendered architectural images with superimposed comic-book-style narration doesn’t feel quite right. Perhaps it’s because the faux-hand-written typeface of the narrative boxes doesn’t do the rest of the frame justice, I’m still not quite sure, and would prefer to reserve judgement until I’d seen the whole thing. But the whole project oozes richness and sophistication – I would have really liked to have to seen the whole narrative to understand more about this building and the project.

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Despite some initial difficulties getting to London Waterloo station on Saturday morning, I spent the weekend in the Netherlands visiting the towns of Haarlem, Hilversum and Rotterdam. I was in Haarlem to meet the cartoonist Joost Swarte, and Rotterdam to meet the architect Henk Döll. The two men collaborated on the design of the Haarlem Toneelschuur Theatre which, as regular readers will recall, has become an interesting case study for this project. After our interview, Joost even took me for a stroll through the bustling streets of Haarlem to see the theatre, and also the neighbouring Johanes Enschede Hof social housing project, the design of which he was also involved in.

In Rotterdam on Monday morning, Henk Döll explained how he had been approached the design the theatre with Joost, and what engaging with a non-architect had meant for the creative process.

Both interviews were recorded, and I’m going to be up late most nights this week transcribing them for the project. Excerpts will appear here; the entirity of the texts may appear in a publication shortly, and the audio recording of my walk through Haarlem with Joost will be released as episode five of the ontheroad podcast later this week. Click here to subscribe via iTunes.

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Further to the other recent announcements about forthcoming interviews, I’m very pleased to confirm that while in the Netherlands and in addition to meeting the cartoonist and illustrator Joost Swarte, I will be meeting the architect Henk Döll. Döll was the project architect at Mecanoo Architecten who worked with Swarte to build the Haarlem Toneelschuur. Döll now has his own practice in Rotterdam, who provide this useful biography.

Henk Döll (born 1956) graduated in 1984 from the Department of Architecture at the Technical University of Delft. As a result of winning and realising the ‘Kruisplein’ housing competition in Rotterdam (1980-1985), he was already working during his studies as an independent architect in the firm of Döll-Houben-Steenhuis. In 1983 this cooperative firm was changed into the Delft-based office of Mecanoo, in which he was partner until mid-2003. Within Mecanoo Henk Döll was responsible as leading architect for more than 120 projects and was also closely involved in many of the office’s other works. A large number of his projects, such as the Park Haagseweg residential area in Amsterdam, the Almelo Public Library, the multi-functional Rochussenstraat building in Rotterdam, and the Toneelschuur in Haarlem, are key projects in the history of Dutch architecture.

At Mecanoo he received various prizes and distinctions, such as the Rotterdam-Maaskant Prize for Young Architects in 1987, “for his innovative contribution to housing architecture”. His work has been shown at numerous exhibitions in the Netherlands and abroad and is often published in Dutch and international magazines and books.

Henk Döll regularly gives guest lectures and presentations and he teaches at various architectural schools, both at home and abroad. His appointments have included a guest professorship at the Institüt für Städtebau, Raumplanung und Raumordnung of the Technische Universität Wien (1995) and the Eliel Saarinen chair at the College of Architecture and Urban Planning of the University of Michigan (2000/2001). He has served on numerous competition juries and is currently a board member of the Genootschap Architectura et Amicitia and of the Atelier HSL Foundation.

Is a comic artist and illustrator without any formal architectural training necessarily a better or equally capable designer of buildings than a professional architect? By meeting both Joost Swarte (the comic artist) and Henk Döll (his partner in the Toneelschuur project), I look forward to finding out two very valuable opinions.

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Following last month’s happy news that this project has been awarded a travelling studentship by the University of Sheffield, I am now able to confirm that I will be travelling to the Netherlands in August to meet the Dutch cartoonist and illustrator Joost Swarte. Swarte is one of the most important artists being studied as part of this project, principally because of his ground breaking role as the principal designer and architect of the Haarlem Toneelschuur.

In addition to informing my final dissertation, excerpts of the interview will be online some time in late August or early September.

If any interested readers of the blog are going to be in Brussels, Haarlem, Amsterdam, or Rotterdam between 18 and 20 August please drop me a line, and I’d be delighted to say hello. Ik zou ook het genoegen hebben om om het even welke Nederlandse lezers te ontmoeten, op voorwaarde dat zij me voor het spreken van hun taal niet vergeven!

I categorise posts on this blog as ‘off-topic’ with caution, since nothing is can be so off-topic not to influence what I’m thinking about or do. Professor Ruth Morrow at the University of Ulster in Belfast has recently uploaded the entirity of the pamphlet Building Clouds Drifting Walls, which describes the experimental design studio that she and others implemented in the first year of the Bachelors in Architecture programme at the University of Sheffield between 2000 and 2003. I followed this programme as my first year studying architecture between 2001 and 2002, and I can honestly credit it with forming my interest in the way that architecture is taught, discussed and represented.

Follow the link and click on the individual pages to open a full page scan. Double points if you can spot the very first architectural model I  built during my first week at Sheffield, which is feature in one of the illustrations.

http://buildingclouds.blogspot.com/

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Thank you AM for recommending me this article from the New York Times earlier this week, reviewing the recently completed Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum in the Netherlands.

Willem Jan Neutelings and Michiel Riedijk stand out from the usual Koolhaas clones. Still relatively unknown in the United States, their firm has steadily built a reputation in Europe for bold designs that draw on everything from primitive temples to comic-book illustration and the decorative ephemera of Andy Warhol. They also have something as rare in architectural circles as raw talent: a sense of humor.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, Encased in Glass
The New York Times, 26 May 2007, retrieved 29 May 2007

No… it’s not just the reference to comic-book illustration that interests me, but (still fresh from reading about Joost Swarte and Mecanoo building the Toneelschuur in Haarlem) the idea that a sense of humour can be conveyed in a building. How interesting that this should be found in a major public building dedicated to archiving, exhibiting and celebrating the broadcast image and sound.

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Ordering Toneelschuur from an online bookseller in the USA, I had expected this book to be no exception the rule that architectural monographs are almost universally big and glossy. But when the long awaited package came, I was in for a surprise. The book is compact (about 15 x 20 cm), textured and superbly designed (by Lex Reitsma for NAi Publishers, Rotterdam). The book charts an fulfilling story about the gestation, birth and first steps of a unique building: the new Toneelschuur Theatre in Haarlem, designed by the Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte and realised in partnership with Mecanoo Architects.

The book is the combined work of five principal contributors. Firstly, Joost Swaarte’s drawings and images of the theatre illustrate the entire book. Secondly, Henze Boekhout revisited the completed building to photograph it with a eye not disimilar to Swaarte’s, focusing on the eccentric details and fleeting moments. And then in between their bright pages, come three colour coded texts. Printed on yellow paper is a chapter by Jan Tromp, the chair of the Toneelschuur board; on green is Henk Döll, the project architect who worked with Swarte for Mecanoo Architects at the time; and finally on violet is a chapter from the art and architecture critic and historian Paul Hefting. Almost perfectly, the book is tied together with the personal accounts of the participants and observers of the building’s creation. If there is only one regret, it’s that Swaarte’s input has not been expanded to include a similar piece of narrative recounting the process (it would not necessarily have to be text – a continuing cartoon story would have kept me happy). For while his images are beautiful, the book seems to lack what I would consider the most interesting story of all from this project: that of the cartoonist who was thrust into the role of architect by the Toneelschuur board.

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Above, the Toneelschuur as imagined by Joost Swarte.

Those reservations aside, though, this book has found a near perfect balance between written and visual content. Press cuttings and other published images are included in the book not by scanned images, but by photographs, which have no shame in including spines, staples of overlapped pages. Combined with the rough texture of the paper on which the book is printed, it’s a convincingly coherent and appealing sketchbook style of design, and suits the book perfectly.

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Above, the Toneelschuur as designed by Joost Swarte and Mecanoo Architects.

I have more or less now realised that the Toneelschuur will become a vital case study in this project, and I’m trying to make arrangements to go to Haarlem some time late this year to see the building and to meet some of the people involved in its conception. It’s particularly interesting to find the theatre’s development recorded in such a well designed and unconventional book. A traditionally glossy large format architectural monograph printed on heavy weight smooth paper between hardback covers simply wouldn’t have suited either the building or the process of its creation. The narrative is strong, and the combination of Boekhout’s photographs with Swarte’s cartoons is utterly beguiling. This is a book that makes me want to go and see the building for myself. The key is, again, that narrative content, which is Boekhout’s photographs means a roving eye for populated views of the theatre in use, and considered snapshots of the humdrum working parts of the building: door handles, corridors and toilets for instance. These same details are the same ones that Swarte imbued with life from the outset: his visual wit comes across not only in the images of the finished building, but also the drawings he created during its conception.

What Swarte had always visualised in two dimensions, the comic, dramatic side of everyday life, could now be materialised in three dimensions – in every respect, since his architecture would become the tangible décor for the play of life that is played inside, with film and theatre…

Paul Hefting, Toneelschuur
Rotterdam: NAi, 2003, p. 201

 

 

 

During my visit to Sheffield the week before last, I was able to squeeze in a brief tutorial with my supervisor, Renata Tyszczuk. Out of the conversation come a number of new themes and directions which will hopefully be picked up on in this blog and in my studies as the project progresses.

> wit: William Hogarth’s morality tales are loaded with subtle visual humour and wit. So too are the cartoons of Joost Swaarte. For an example, look above at two of Swarte’s drawings for the Toneelschuur Theatre. The people standing by the staircase are wearing bizarre metre-tall hats. And in the photo on the right, a dog is drinking an espresso on a radiator. Have you ever seen an architect drawn a building with this subtle passing wit? Where does this come from, and does wit have a place in the visual depiction of architecture?

> time and space: I think that I have already said this before in almost as many words, but it seems worthwhile to clarify it more openly. Comics generally always offer a precise depiction of time and space as two combined elements. Whereas there is no apparent distinction or separation between the two in comics, there is in architecture. Architecture is frequently taught, presented and discussed as a practice that creates and manipulates space alone. Time is dismissed because it is out of the control of the architect, and is most often symbolised visually in depictions of the built environment by dirtiness,and erosion. Some background reading on the subject of space is needed, most notably on its cultural separation from time by those who depict it. I have been directed to Doreen Massey on this topic.

> the complicity of the reader: quite simply, the reader of a comic strip is made complicit in the story by the involvement that comes from reading the story. This becomes especially interesting with artists such as Ben Katchor, whose work I’ve been reading lately, where protagists act as both storytellers and representatives of the reader in the story. Can architecture be presented in a similarly complicit manner?

> the ancestors of the coupe anatomique: without trying to condense a history of the comic strip into the introduction of a 15,000 thesis, it would be helpful for me to trace the images that lead to the creation of the coupe anatomique that I studied earlier in the project. The allegorical subjects of Renaissance frescoes, for instance, which would be a refreshing trip down memory lane to my A-level art history studies.

All this, and much more, coming soon. I have a number of particularly demanding studio deadlines to attend to between now and the end of June, but any slack in this blog will be picked up in the summer, when I relocate to London and begin the main phase of concerted research writing for the dissertation.




  • ABOUT THE PROJECT

    "no words no action" was an experiment in academic blogging. The blog recorded the progress of reading, research and investigations that lead to a Masters in Architecture dissertation at the University of Sheffield in autumn 2007. You can find out more about the author's interest in blogging here.

    To find out more about the thesis, download the original dissertation proposal (pdf format) from February 2007 or the semi-formal first chapter (pdf format) from April 2007.

    Further research projects are in the works, and their dependence on human interaction and networking suggests more blogging will be inevitable when the time comes.


  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    At the time that this blog was created, James Benedict Brown was a fifth year Masters of Architecture student at the University of Sheffield. James' personal blog is here.

    James graduated in 2008 and now lives and works in Glasgow.


  • ABOUT THE TUTOR

    This project was supervised by Renata Tyszczuk at the University of Sheffield


  • ABOUT YOU

    If you want to correct me on something, offer an opinion on a particular artist or building, or if you'd like to recommend someone or something to find out about, please feel free to leave a comment. Just click on 'Comments' under the headline of the relevant post...


  • BOOKSHELF

    Click here to browse James' bookshelf, and to purchase books being used in this project.


  • CONFERENCE DIARY

    I've managed to miss almost half a dozen compelling conferences around the world so far this year, simply because I have no (more) money to travel and no time to escape my studies in Strasbourg and Sheffield. However, if I had a magic plane ticket and plenty of time, here's my selection of essential conferences to attend. Hopefully I'll be there for more of them next year... click here for the diary (updated every time I miss another one).


  • NOTE

    All images are used for illustrative purposes only, and the copyright remains with the artist and/or creator. Please contact me if I have misappropriated an image or incorrectly credited it. Thanks... JBB


  • SOME RIGHTS RESERVED

    Creative Commons License
    The content of this blog is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.


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