Square the Block

Richard Wilson is one of Britain’s most respected and challenging contemporary artists. He is internationally celebrated for his interventions in architectural space which draw heavily for their inspiration on architecture, engineering and construction.

He has made some of the most memorable and arguably the best “outside” works of recent years. This is opposed to public art, which Wilson thinks has connotations of something second rate that is situated in municipal parks. All of Wilson’s work builds upon its context through surprise, incongruity, humour and a pervasive sense of unease. He questions the relationship between materials and construction, and deliberately confuses the viewer through juxtaposing one element against another in an unconventional manner. Probably his most memorable sculpture was “Turning the Place Over”. This sculptural intervention was created in Liverpool in 2008, during their tenure as City of Culture. Here Wilson cut an oval shaped section from the façade of a disused office building, this piece was then attached to a pivoting rod which revolved. The cut section was then returned to the facade. The revolution was not quite true to the building, so the sectional piece as it turned, appeared to float free from the façade before settling back into its original position. This created a sense of surprise, relief and then recognition among the viewers. Another dramatic artwork is 20:50, a permanent installation in the Saachi Gallery, London. A huge one-meter high tank was installed in one room of the gallery, and this was is filled with pure black sump oil, the sort that is recycled from car engines, indeed this is where the title of the piece comes from. A slanting walkway was constructed which allows the visitor to walk into the centre of the tank, and thus is invited to contemplate the highly reflective surface of the oil, the relationship between the oil and the ceiling and the unnerving beauty of the repulsive material. It could be argued that Wilson is working in a tradition of changing the perception of a building by altering it; from the picturesque follies of the 18th century, through Gordon Matta Clark’s cut buildings to Rachel Whiteraed’s castings. This alteration disorientates the viewer, thus asking questions about perception, understanding and commonly held views.

Square the Block (2009) is a major architectural intervention, which has been installed on the corner of one of the London School of Economics’ most prominent buildings. The sculpture appears to an abstraction of the corner that both mimics and subtly subverts the existing façade of the building. The stonework looks as if it has been jumbled and crumpled up, then just reattached to the building. It deliberately upsets the perception of the building from something quietly solid and dignified into something unsettling and fallible.

The corner of the building was actually originally chamfered, this allowed Wilson to construct elements that projected from it. Then to construct the artwork, the artist, working with engineers Eckersley O’Callaghan, created copies of a number five-storey vertical slices from the neighbouring buildings. Moulds were taken from these and the resultant casting fixed to a three-dimensional aluminium truss , which was six storeys in height and approximately triangular. The pieces of the sculpture were constructed from a water-based acrylic composite: Jesmonite. This was selected because it was economical to produce, light enough to be carried by the existing building structure and had a close visual match to the Portland stone cladding. The completed sculpture assembled on the ground and the complete piece lifted into place. It was hung on the side of the building from the fifth floor only and tied back to the building at second and sixth floors for stability.

The sculpture makes no architectural and functional sense other than matching the cornice work and completing the corner. Its position means that it is sometimes unnoticed, overlooked and therefore the moment of incongruity and recognition is often delayed and thus amplified. It is an intervention that both mimics and subtly subverts the existing facade of the building.

St Mary of Furness, Barrow, Lake District, UK

 

E W Pugin designed the church, which is large, ornate and Gothic. It opened in 1867, although the tower and steeple were not completed until 1888. Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875) was the eldest son of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin who is remembered for the Gothic interiors of the Palace of Westminster. After his death in 1852, Edward took up his successful practice and completed more than one hundred churches

Francis Roberts Architects are prominent conservationist architects who have a reputation for the sensitive approach to the preservation and remodelling of existing buildings. When they were commissioned to carry out the conservation work to the church, they found that the interior had been painted off-white, a popular colour in the mid-twentieth century. This, however, they felt was an opportunity to not only restore the building to its former glory, but also a chance to embellish, with decoration, certain elements within the building. The architects took this as their cue for the redecoration from the capitals on the columns that formed the arcade. These were alternately either abstract or decorated with verdant foliage.

The complete interior was redecorated, but special emphasis was placed upon the polygonal east apse. This has been repainted in a rich and romantic manner, thus acknowledging the focus and importance that this area has. It is deliberately more dense and complex at the base, gradually becoming more simple, and lighter as it rises up the interior walls, thus encouraging the congregation to lift their eyes and turn their thoughts towards the heavens.

The ornamentation is precious and opulent and it serves to emphasise the architectural language of the apse. The method that the architects used to ensure the quality and consistency of their design, was to draw at full size the shapes and patterns, these were converted into stencils by the decorator, who then transferred these layers of ornamentation to the walls.

The language of the redecoration was based upon the style of architecture combined with a wish to create a rich and appropriate image. The architects have taken a particularly tactful and sympathetic approach to their successful conservation and redecoration of the St Mary of Furness Barrow church in Cumbria.

Hasselt University – Faculty of Law: NoA Architecten

Any understanding of the past is determined by the manner in which the information about the pervious age is interpreted. All histories are partial; all contain an act of translation or decoding. It is impossible for the historian to provide anything other than their own opinion; that is, to narrate their own interpretation of the events. When a building is reused, an element of narrative uncertainty or mnemonic ambiguity is always introduced. The story of the building is always open to interpretation and the designer can exploit that uncertainty.

When NoA Architecten were approached to convert the former prison in Hasselt into the new home for the University’s Faculty of Law, the sense of irony was lost upon them. They relished the ambiguity that this created, and immediately referenced W.G. Sebald. He had explored the notion that a building or place contains the quality of being open to more than one interpretation; that appearances can and do lie, deceive, and distort. The academic Mark Richard McCulloh discusses this: “Sebald weaves the fabric of his narrative out of intertwining digressions on the present and the past, out of the strange threads of perception, memory, and dream, and, finally, out of the experiences of travel in a here and now that is alternatively mundane, lyrical, and uncanny.”

The buildings, which were organised into the traditional prison panoptican, were built in 1855 on the recommendation of the then inspector general of prisons, Edouard Ducpetiaux. A hundred prisoners could be accommodated in back-to-back cells. These were spread out in four wings around a central octagonal base, which housed the observation post. The occupants had no idea whether or not they were being observed, and it was impossible for them to experience or even understand the complete building. It closed in 2005. The labyrinthine nature of the organisation of the buildings ensured that the prison itself had the quality of existing very much as a separate world behind the great containing wall, as an independent city within the actual city of Hasselt.

The solid brick prison wall, which was part of the collective memory of the city, was a symbol of exclusion. The architects were aware of this strange connection that this barrier had with the local consciousness, and felt that it was important to reverse this meaning and create a new connection with the city, to construct something welcoming out of that which was once impenetrable, to ensure that visitors instead of feeling intimidated, felt privileged.

The form of the original building dictated the organisation of the new elements; it informed the position of the large spaces and the smaller ones. The existing composition was uncompromisingly precise and the architects were able to use this structure as a guide to the placement of the new elements of the faculty of law. The building became a small, bright and open town, with several entrances and exits, squares, streets, courtyards and an unexpected roof garden for which the prison wall acts as no more than a parapet. The individual cells were preserved as study rooms. Particular marks decorate the walls, these are the ghosts of the lines that counted out the almost innumerable days and thus preserve the memory of the former function. Glass rather than solid doors were installed in these intimate spaces. The interstitial spaces, the gaps between the rooms and the walls, the places where surreptitious activity may or may not have once taken place have been preserved. These intermediate spaces are for conversation, for collaboration and for romantic collusion. By utilising the form and structure of the existing structures, a radical transformation of the buildings has been completed without losing the memory of the previous use, but also without invoking the true ghastliness of the experience.

Extract taken from forthcoming ReReadings Volume 2

The Factory by Ricardo Bofill 1975

 

           

          

The Modernist adage that Form Follows Function does not generally apply to building reuse projects. The form of the building already exists; the spaces are defined, the walls are in position, the roof is place and the relationship between these elements and the immediate context has long been established. Of course it is possible to change all of this; walls can be demolished, new elements constructed and fresh relationships established, but, the essence of the building will still exist. The character of the place will still be present. This is the charm of the remodeled structure; it retains the character of the original programme and inhabitants, and combines this with the needs of the new users; thus adaptation is always a delicious compromise between the two.

The vast complex of a disused cement factory on the outskirts of Barcelona was in the early 1970s, converted into an office and a home for the architect Ricardo Bofill. This extraordinary and romantic project was the vision of the young architect who had not only grown up in the construction industry, but had come of age in a country just emerging from the oppressive years of the Franco regime. It was an extraordinary time in Barcelona, a city with a vivid and progressive attitude that had nurtured such artists as Gaudi, Picasso, Miro and Dali, but in that critical post-war period also saw the rise of Brutalism. So the sight of the almost surreal complex of concrete structures, did not daunt Bofill, but apparently actually filled him with a ridiculous kind of magical hope.

The uninhibited cement works was immediately adjacent to the site that the architect was constructing the Walden Seven housing complex at about the same time. This uncompromising multi-level building-city is candidly monumental; it contains 18 towers, 446 apartments, bars, shops and two swimming pools. It actually overshadows the factory and this contrast of scale between the two structures reinforces the sculptural quality of both.

The cement factory had been abandoned and was partially in ruins, and so the adaptation process began with further demolition. This removed much of the detritus and additions that had accumulated over the years since the original construction. This defined a series of distinct spaces, which were little more than cleaned, thus the memory of the structure’s former use, the industrial aesthetic and the spatial quality is preserved in the raw concrete walls. Small additions, such as new walls to complete spaces, openings to allow for light and access, and vast amounts of greenery completed the project. It then came to the problem of how to occupy this vast edifice; distinct spaces had evolved form the process, each had a particular and definite quality. The occupiers considered the nature of these new volumes while also contemplating the activities that would happen within them. Thus a symbiotic solution was reached; one which accentuated the conditions and character of the building while ensuring that the users completed tasks in the most sympathetic surroundings. So, for example, the original factory hall was transformed into the conference and exhibition room, and with reference to the ceiling height of over 10 meters, it is called “La Catedral”. Slightly distinct from the office in the upper part of the factory is Bofill’s own home. It has the same raw quality, but is a perfect cube with a series of arched windows. The decoration is sparse yet as equally uncompromising as the building; simple very long white curtains hang from the ceiling and the floor is made from untreated timber.

Bofill did not necessarily embark upon the process of remodelling the concrete factory with a preconceived idea of how the finished project would be; rather through a process of discovery and recognition he allowed the form of the building to evolve, and the manner in which it was occupied to emerge from that.

Extract from forthcoming ReReadings Volume 2

Time and Context

Symposium hosted by Continuity in Architecture

Tuesday March 8th at 2pm in the Benzie Lecture Theatre,                   Manchester School of Architecture

Jerwood

All histories are important and all narratives are viable and relevant; the basis of historical existence is no longer seen as a sequence of Kings and Queens, Battles, Discoveries and Political Events. History can be regarded as a discourse; it contains facts, interpretations, bias, and empathy, and all history is positional; it is dependent upon the position of the narrator of that history. Historical analysis is an act of translation; the historian (whether architectural, cultural, scientific, feminist, activist, or any other of a myriad of other focuses) will not be able to view the material through any other lens than that of their own culture. Thus any history contains many different readings and interpretations.

Time and Context : A Continuity In Architecture Symposium

This symposium seeks to discuss the importance of context in relation to architecture and time.

The Symposium will be hosted by:

David Connor was one of the most expressive of the post-modern interior designers in 1980’s London. He revolutionised design with a small collection of domestic and retail projects. These remodelling projects were as anarchic as the clients that they were designed for and included the Seditionaries shop for the ultimate punk couple, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, and an apartment for the pop punk, Adam Ant. The liberation of money meant that interior design was at the time on the cusp of changing from a very proper pursuit for classically trained designers into something considerably more fashionable, provocative and at times outrageous. Connor’s enormous and expressive freehand drawings for these interiors epitomise this approach. Thirty-five years later he has completed, with Kate Darby, a much more serious, but no less eccentric project: an ecologically sound architects studio.

The speakers are:

Fred Scott was previously a visiting professor of Interior Architecture at Rhode Island School of Design and course leader for Interior Design at Kingston University. He is the author of On Altering Architecture, and he will discuss suggested practices based on the interrogation of the context, the everyday in flux, and the ideal in an attempt to identify a theory of intervention.

Hana Loftus is one of the founders of HAT Projects, a studio which has a specific focus on public and civic projects. She is an expert in public participation in urban development, and will examine two projects; the RIBA award winning Jerwood Gallery on Hasting’s seafront, and the $20,000 house in Alabama, a prototype for families living in poverty.

Hugh Strange runs an award winning London based architecture practice. He has a keen interest in precise contextual responses to sensitive urban and rural sites. He will talk about two projects: his personal residence Strange House and Studio, a low budget yet generous house squashed into an old pub yard, and Architecture Archive, a new timber structure which snuggles within the walls an existing barn.

Gianni Botsford, founded Gianni Botsford Architects in 1996. He will discuss two projects: the RIBA award winning Light House, a new-build large family house on a brown-land site in Notting Hill, London, and the Casa Kiké located in Costa Rico, a RIBA international award-winning double pavilion.

Piers Taylor (The House that £100k Built, BBC2) will discuss the work of his practice Invisible Studio, which aims to be a different type of organisation from a conventional practice. It operates through collaboration, experimentation, research and education. They are interested in going about the process of architecture in a different way – a way where clients, users, collaborators and makers are all part of the process of design.

 

Oddments and Epigrams

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 15.36.57

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 15.38.10 Interventions in Bollington

Continuity in Architecture and Bollington Arts Centre are pleased to present: Oddments and Epigrams. An exhibition showcasing work undertaken in Bollington by postgraduate students at the Manchester School of Architecture.

For the past few months, the college has been working in collaboration with the Neighbourhood Planning Committee in Bollington to investigate the local area in a bid to better understand the history and vernacular of the town. The partnership have been developing a plan for the town that will sustain the place for the foreseeable future, that will allow the town to grow without losing its inherent character and will facilitate a future for all of the residents, not just those who can afford to live there. This partnership will develop a masterplan for Bollington, it will identify areas that appropriate development can take place, propose designs for new buildings, suggest the redevelopment of existing structures and recommend areas for public space.

Oddments and Epigrams will include the work from two projects. The first is a research book which  seeks to interrogate the essence of Bollington by exposing key elements pertaining to its history, culture, and character. The main focus is upon the historic evolution of the town through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries with consideration given most notably to the topography; with heroic remnants of the Industrial Revolution such as the canal and the railway, contrasting with a calmer and more picturesque local vernacular of cottage, terraces, garrets and greens.

The other project shows proposals for a series of interventions in Bollington from a project inspired by Caruso St John’s book entitled “Knitting, Weaving, Wrapping, Pressing”. The interventions aim to find a formal solution to a series of site specific problems uncovered within the earlier research. Projects include a cast golden stone, a collection of mirror reflections, a repeat print of the town using the process of devore which is a method for decorating cloth that has been developed in the area, a model of a mill which has been redefined with light, the interior of the local landmark transposed to the centre of the town, a water driven sculpture, a temporary cinema and a market day flag.

The exhibition opens on Sunday 17th January from 7pm at Bollington Arts Centre. Students and staff will be present to discuss the drawings, models and interventions. All welcome.

Sunday 17th January 7pm – 9pm

Monday 18th January 10am – 5pm

Tuesday 19th January 10am – 5pm

Wednesday 20th January 10am – 5pm

On Retaining Walls: Projects completed 2014-15

Holly Hatfield

The re-use of any architectural site, whether it be cleared and empty or still possessing the elements of previous occupation, creates a direct connection with the past. This adaptation of the existing situation is a strategy that establishes an explicit relationship with history and context, not just of the building and its immediate surroundings, but also with the society that constructed it. The reading of a building or site can uncover a layered and stratified narrative. The understanding of the inherent qualities and conditions of building or site can provide clues to the redesign of the place. This knowledge can be used to activate, liberate and instigate a new future for the situation. Kenneth Frampton, talks about the need for architecture to have the “…capacity to condense the artistic potential of the region while reinterpreting cultural influences coming from the outside”, for the building to show a great understanding of both place and tectonics, and to “…evoke the oneiric essence of the site, together with the inescapable materiality of building”.

ON RETAINING WALLS
Architecture is the mediator between the City and the Room. An act of translation occurs at the point where the outside meets the inside. The wall combined with the window, door or threshold transforms the nature of the exterior and moderates it to accommodate the interior. When viewed from the hostile environment of the outside, the interior can possess qualities that are perhaps ethereal, enchanting or reassuring. Imagine a crowd gathering in the town, the quality of the light in the streets, the coldness of the damp and windswept spaces, look through those twinkling windows of the enclosing buildings, what would be happening in these spaces?

I like to confer nobility on an interior, make sure that no window, door or sequence is taken for granted. Knowing how to construct space is fundamental. Sometimes positioning a wall at an angle is enough to capture and reflect more light. You can bring tension into an environment simply by adding something ‘out of scale’ like a door that’s bigger than all the others in the same room. You might draw attention to a door or window frame, or enhance the relationship with the exterior by inserting a carefully designed window. This is what nobility means to me: non-obviousness, care over detail, intelligent economy.
Umberto Riva

A Sword Decorated with Myrtle Leaves*
This year CiA pursued projects in two locations, one at home, the other away. The Sixth Year investigated the city of Granada in Southern Spain; a city situated below the imposing palaces of the Alhambra, on the confluence of four rivers at the foot of the permanently white-topped Sierra Nevada mountains. While the Fifth Year project was situated in the somewhat neglected Victorian seaside town of Colwyn Bay. It has evolved into a crushed conurbation compressed between the steeply sloping Pwllycrochan Woods and the massive transport and infrastructural links, which effectively cut the town off from the beach and therefore the sea.

Taken from “Buster Keaton Goes for a Stroll” by Frederico Garcia Lorca 1928

Continuity in Architecture 2014-15
Staff: Sally Stone, John Lee, Steve McCusker, Gary Colleran, Dominic Roberts, David Cox. Students: Laura Baker, Sarah Capper, Adrian Coelho, Helen Cross, Michael Crozier, Tom Dewey, Joe Fowler, Holly Hadfield, Laura Hayes, Adam Jones, David Rhys Jones, Bryony Lee, Paschalia Paschali, Viet Pham Tuan, Samuel Rutter, Zain Toma, Sam Beddingfield, Hannah Bellerby, Suzanne Coong, Kristian James, Jana Kefurtova, Doug Meadway, Raluca Pop, Bryony Preston, Ketil Rage, Dragos Silaghi, Alexandru Trofin, Katherine Valentine

More from Continuity in Architecture can be seen here