Friday, 9 September 2011

An image of modernity

Today I visited the ICA for the latest in their series of culture now talks, with this instalment being delivered by Hal Foster. His newly published book looks at ways in which contemporary art and architecture have informed each other, something he terms the art-architecture complex, and the implications of this. In his talk he discussed various threads of the book in relation to specific examples of architecture, from architects such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano who he described as being exponents of a 'global style' of design, to Zaha Hadid and Herzog and de Meuron, whose stylistic influences drawn from such historical artistic avant-gardes as Russian constructivism he was particularly sceptical of. He noted how these buildings are essentially images first and foremost - glittering beacons of modernity that have no grounding in site or locality (think the ostentatiousness of the Shard).

There was also a trajectory in his line of thought from the minimalism he has discussed at length before in his career and the spatial concerns of contemporary architecture today. Interesting was his disdain for how the buildings discussed aspired to create a sense of 'lightness of being', and how these buildings were aspiring to a sense of modernist 'transparency' - making the materials of the building visible - but in fact were creating an air of mystification and illusion. Rather than an experience being activated by the subject and their relation to the space - as with minimalism - the space itself creates the experience, and this is a negative, Foster posed.

Since it began to rise above its surroundings on the south bank of the Thames I've found the Shard incredibly disconcerting. As Hal Foster noted in his talk, it really does have no connection or awareness of its immediate surroundings in London Bridge and its sheer height really does make it difficult to come to terms with. I've always found its juxtaposition with the brutalist, modernist tower it sits next to a poignant happenstance - as Andrew Marr pointed out in his recent television series on megacities, here is London's glittering beacon of modernity, casting a shadow over the eyesore that once heralded another moment of modernity but that now is a drab, grey, monstrous lump of concrete. And yet it was this concrete and the aforementioned transparency of materials that formed the core of the modernist project, analogous to them with a transparency in all aspects of democratic life. What is so democratic about the Shard, rising high above all around it?

"We need to make a building that doesn't shut people out, one that responds to local as well as city-wide needs. A building of this scale, this ambition, cannot be just for private gain: it becomes a public project privately financed." - Renzo Piano on The Shard

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Midcentury Days

Polypropylene Chair

Royal Festival Hall Lounge Chair

Calyx print

Yesterday Dulcie and I visited the Robin and Lucienne Day exhibition at PM Gallery in Ealing. The Days, a husband and wife duo, could be regarded as the British Eames, with their furniture and fabric designs propelling Britain towards modernity in the 1950s and 60s. The exhibition displayed some truly exquisite design work, featuring famous example of Robin Day's chairs designed for the Royal Festival Hall and a vast range of fabric designs by Lucienne Day, including the famous Calyx print commissioned for the Festival of Britain in 1951 (pictured above). The whole midcentury modern thing is having a bit of a revival currently and with the recent recreation of the Festival of Britain on the Southbank, yet it was nice to see this understated exhibition focusing purely on the merits of the design, highlighting that, whilst it may be a nostalgic trend for some, this was not simply about riding the wave of popularity but showcasing timeless, quality design.