Quarterly winners: TomDavid Architects and Jaime Levinas
In 1983 the French-Swiss architect Bernard Tsumi won the design competition for the new Parc de la Villette, a redevelopment of Les Abbattoirs (the slaughterhouse grounds) in Paris. Tsumi used the Deconstructivism developed by philosopher Jacques Derrida as his source of inspiration. This theory postulated that the world was not as ordered and accessible as Modernism would have us believe and offered constancy only in the confusion and lack of predictability of daily reality. These ideas gained popularity at the same time as the development of the chaos theory, a theory on the effect of exponentially increasing uncertainty. The mathematically-based theory expounds that every initial condition has an effect on everything else thereafter, meaning that the actions of even the smallest of organisms can greatly influence outcomes later on. Eduard Norton Lorenz illustrated the theory with the ‘butterfly effect’, whereby a butterfly’s flapping wings in Brazil can ultimately cause a hurricane in Texas. The safe stability of the 1950s as a social model was supplanted by the acceptance of uncontrollable, comprehensive chaos.read more
The most impressive aspect of Tsumi’s plan for Parc de la Villette were the follies which sent a shockwave through the worlds of architecture, art and landscape design. The folly as archetype is a built structure without accompaniment of the usual functional program, considered essential to architecture. An architectural form without a function was a revolutionary notion in the days following on from the height of Modernism which had elevated function as sacrosanct. Tsumi’s follies were industrial steel constructions and leaned heavily towards the visual arts, or sculpture. Debates raged in the related disciplines. Was this architecture? Was it philosophy made material and therefore art? Or should they be seen as items of scenery, like the romantic ruins added to 18th and 19th century landscape gardens? Eventually discussions were concluded in a general consensus that the follies were beacons for lost and confused visitors to navigate their way through the park, until Deconstructivism as well no longer inspired awe. Increasingly follies appeared in parks and gardens and were embraced by the public who did not concern themselves with the greater philosophical significance of the concept, but appreciated the charm of these typically tiny buildings. It is no longer an issue whether these small structures count as ‘architecture’. The architectural establishment has accepted and embraced the concept, while artists now rarely consider follies as belonging to their discipline. The small building continued to evolve in terms of visual form, but also continued to wrestle with the notion of function.
That is, until temporality was introduced into the equation: a small building with a short life or a mobile building or a conjured architectural form. The transience of its existence or the brevity of its use now confirms its functional relevance, subsequently establishing a new right of existence. While the folly’s justification was first found in its lack of function and its use left to chance and circumstance, the continued existence of the archetype is now dependent on the function. The small structures now seen everywhere in big cities around the world, in parks or appended to buildings, are now called pavilions or take on names such as parasites or nomadic or mobile architecture.
TomDavid Architects use terms such as small-scale poetic potential to describe their intended enrichment of urban public space and define their project for ‘pop-up cinema’ as mobile architecture in the tradition of lift bridges, dockyard cranes and gangways. Parallels can be seen in the scale, form and materialization as well as significance for public space in this project with the follies Tsumi introduced thirty years ago. Together with the global socio-economic mechanisms that fascinate TomDavid Architects, the similarities can scarcely be overlooked. The question remains, how much architecture is needed for the function and how much function is needed for the architecture of the pop-up?
The FGF is very curious about the great potential of this project and by awarding the grant it hopes to stimulate new discussions concerning the dividing lines between what is and what is not architecture.
Dikkie Scipio for FGF
Little that has been made by human hands is as static as a building; as rigid and immobile, as firmly fixed to the ground on which it stands, as a building. Little that has been made by human hands is as slow to respond to the wishes and developments of society as a building. In the first instance a building is merely a shelter and then a bearer of identity for the user, the visitor, the city, and it can only respond to change by the interception of any number of professional designers or by dereliction and demolition. Between reuse and demolition there is the vacuum of vacancy. Lack of occupancy is not a new phenomenon. The occurrence can usually be linked to clear, socio-economic causes. Currently as well, the sustained economic depression is the direct cause of the crisis of building vacancies. Yet, unlike previously, we can question whether the former uses of those buildings now empty can simply be revived once the market improves. Is it possible that there is a need for different, new or perhaps even fewer spaces? How do we know if there is sufficient quality in a building to meet a new social need, the nature of which may not yet even be known or adequately understood? How do we gauge the quality of vacant buildings at all? Is visiting or viewing the space enough? Or can we feel and listen as well? These are serious questions regarding the re-evaluation of some basic principles within the discipline of architecture, and ones that are funnily enough being asked by a group of young artists spearheaded by a young filmmaker and a musician.read more
The means they use to explore these questions is surprising. Through performances with light and sound that employ the emptiness for projection, an experience of space is suggested that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. What a fantastic parallel it is that for the 1958 World Expo in Brussels one of the godfathers of architecture, Le Corbusier together with his young assistant Xanakis, had also set up a pavilion with the sole purpose of projecting sound and light. From 1956 Philips had been pursuing ground-breaking research in a physics laboratory and experimenting with innovative technologies. Art director and engineer C. Kalff commissioned Corbu’s firm to design an environment for Philips to exhibit its latest technologies. Le Corbusier invited Edgard Varèse to collaborate along with the company’s engineers to compose an electronic poem for the 20th century, the poème électronique. Varèse accepted the invitation and worked on the piece for two years, which would eventually lead to the emergence of a new form of music: electronic music, produced, edited and executed by electric instruments. The physics laboratory lived on until 1960 (when it was taken over by the University of Utrecht) and gave birth to the field of electronic music, or sonology.
The fascination for electronic technology instigated a series of inventions which ushered the development of a great revolution at the end of the last century, that eventually lead to the creation of a whole new digital world predominately characterized by the sharing of information. Never before did every individual have such access to such an incredible amount of information at his doorstep. The information became retrievable at any point in time. It was inevitable that this would have a huge impact on how we deal with space and how we judge the necessity, motives and methods of transporting ourselves and the goods we use. The current emptiness is perhaps the calm before the storm in which we can reflect on new spaces for the new reality of which we are slowly becoming aware.
So it is good that young artists and musicians are engaging in this issue of vacant buildings and are encouraging the public to think about and feel what emptiness is. It is no easy task to shed light on this theme, though perhaps because they are aiming to expose an experience rather than answers, the ambition is very worthwhile. This is why the FGF is awarding a grant for the project. With eager anticipation, they await the outcome.
Dikkie Scipio for FGF
Rotterdam, Q3 2014