Ben Kelly: Off the peg

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This month’s issue of AD Magazine, Interior Atmospheres, contains an article by CiA staffer Sally Stone with her regular co-author Graeme Brooker. The piece, entitled “Off the Peg: The Bespoke Interiors of Ben Kelly” was based upon an interview with the designer and discusses the qualities of the interiors that he creates.

In response to our opening discussion about the general perception of interiors practice and education, Kelly introduces himself as ‘an old fashioned interior designer’. He describes the subject as something that has integrity far beyond just surface consideration and he regards it as something that is ‘very close to architecture, but its not architecture’, that actually has little to do with surface treatment, but has its basis in the manipulation and control of space. He explains that the starting point for any project is in the analysis and understanding of the unique qualities of the existing space, and suggests that there is a resonating element that springs from the original building that is crucial for the development of the project. This interpretive attitude can be traced back to the work of the well known interior architect, Carlo Scarpa, although of course with vastly different visual results.

‘When I get the plan then this is when the project begins. We sit around the table and discuss what it’s telling us, what’s possible, what can we keep and what has to go,’ says Kelly. The site-specific qualities of the existing building that can be teased out and repossessed in the transformation of a space are one of the major sources of atmosphere in his work. It is from these readings that the process of organisation and assembly can begin. Kelly could be accused of not really doing very much; the basic spaces are relatively unaltered, many of the finishes are pre-existing and the new bits are very much the same as the old. He makes it look too easy. But that is exactly the point – he liberates the existing, not just in the way the space is exposed and manipulated, but also, and most importantly, the manner in which the new elements, insertions and materials echo the existing qualities.

Ben Kelly Design

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Pictures: (Top) Ben Kelly in his studio, photo by Graeme Brooker; (Bottom) article page featuring The Hacienda, Manchester (now destroyed).

Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Lisbon

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Porfirio Pardal Monteiro: Church of Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Lisbon (1938)

This suburban church from the late 1930s presents a curious hybrid of architectural languages and materials. Its interior is formed in a gloomy concrete gothic, lit only by dramatic stained glass. This very atmospheric space sits behind a façade which could only be categorized as art-deco, although a rather austere example of the genre as befits its function. The expressive modernity of the individual forms of façade, campanile and baptistery are anchored by a rusticated base which adds much stability to the asymmetry of the composition.

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Rumble in the (urban) jungle

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Milan is the latest location for the on-off face-off between Daniel Libeskind and Rem Koolhaas, in the form of two rival museum projects for the city. Previous to this bout Koolhaas (the most provocative historian of New York) declined to compete for the Ground Zero competition which was awarded to Libeskind, and Libeskind, during the recent Tibet crisis, recently declared his ethical aversion to working in China (where Koolhaas’s CCTV headquarters in Beijing approaches completion). These leading star architects are possibly to be seen in direct confrontation in the near future, helping to raise the profile of Milan as one of the capitals of international contemporary art.

Koolhaas’s contribution (produced through OMA’s research arm AMO) for the Fondazione Prada is the rehabilitation, occupation and extension of a former industrial complex providing new cultural facilities in existing and newly created spaces (Click here for pictures). It is largely respectful of its context, and appears happy to defer the issue of overt expression to the art it is intended to house.

In contrast Libeskind’s project will be new build, part of the CityLife project to be developed on the former grounds of the Fiera di Milano. The proposed Museum of Contemporary Art expoits the frankly laughable device of a transposition of the Vitruvian man of Leonardo da Vinci. The leaden quality of this feeble plan symbolism does little to distract from the banality of the masterplan in which it sits.

Libeskind explains his project in a recent lecture here (The Fifteenth BCA Berthold Lubetkin Memorial Lecture).

For all Libeskind’s sincerity and Koolhaas’s cynicism, at the weigh-in for this bout it looks like Koolhaas on points.

Meier versus Mayor

Is their heritage safe in Roman hands? To return to a question which has been asked previously on this blog, the new ‘post-fascist’ Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, has raked up an old controversy with his suggestion that Richard Meier’s two year old Museo dell’ Ara Pacis should be demolished. Ignore its popular (indeed even vulgar) success with last year’s sacrilegious Valentino exhibition, or this year’s rather more enigmatic collaboration by Brian Eno and Mimmo Paladino. Ignore the critical success of the museum building, outside the sniffiness of the thwarted Roman architectural establishment. Ignore the success of the public space which ties it into the city. Here is a building which requires, nay demands, destruction!

News background:
Rome mayor vows to remove museum
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno Upsets The Italian Elites
Mayor Alemanno Wants to Move the Ara Pacis Building?

Muzio v Ponti


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Giovanni Muzio’s Ca Brutta (1923) faces Gio Ponti’s Palazzo Montecatini (1936) across the junction of Via Fillipo Turati and Via Moscova in Milan. The buildings were completed within fifteen years of each other and display different approaches to to a similar problem: how do you make a facade which forms a thin sheath on a modern structural frame? Muzio in the Ca Brutta (‘Ugly House’) chooses to ignore the structural concrete frame beneath and emphasise the individuality of the residences and homeliness of the building. This was an explicit rejection of the ‘renaissance palazzo’ type as a model for urban housing in which the individual apartments would be dominated by the overall composition. The sense of bricolage in the Ca Brutta was implicit in the client’s brief – Muzio was required to incorporate windows that had been purchased before the scheme was designed. The Palazzo Montecatini is of course a different building type: a headquarters building. The central entrance is emphasised and the window frames are pushed to the face of the cladding. The central block in the composition includes vestigial acroteria perhaps indicating a root for Ponti’s style in the clasically derived rational architecture of Vienna at the turn of the century.

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