The exhibition, curated by Nicholas Olsberg and Markus Lähteenmäki, follows two parallel paths, exploring the boundaries between sculpture and architecture and the power of structures to transform the landscape and the city into poetic environments. One path looks outward, to the city and the land, and at the potential of architectural ideas to reveal the lyrical or transcendental qualities of their setting. The other turns inward, to works of architecture as discrete containers of thought, memory, sociability, or ideas.
While the exhibition looks back at precedents from as early as the 16th Century, the focus is on modern minds in modern times, and especially on those European and American architects and artists who influenced and changed our sense of what structures could do and say, as the societies they served moved from the first vast emplacements of the machine age, to the dawn of the electronic era.
The exhibition opens by looking to the natural world, showing situations in which structures charge the space around the sites on which they sit, moving from Frank Lloyd Wright, who believed his task was to complete the unfinished work of nature, to Superstudio, whose gigantic mirrored wall aims at a total reconfiguration of the landscape through reflection. Some of the works underline the stillness of the wilderness and garden. Others bring that stillness to life, insinuating moments of dynamic presence into a static world. Like Le Corbusier’s ‘Open Hand’, which punctuates the gigantic dam at Chandigarh, all of the works play on the viewer’s reading of distance, the shifts in scale and detail that appear as the viewpoint changes.
From the natural world, the exhibition moves seamlessly to cityscapes. From Hans Poelzig’s expressive moulded lines, which bring coherence to the mixed registers of the traditional city, to Mies van der Rohe’s photomontage of the Friedrichstrasse tower of glass superimposed on Dr Caligari’s dark Berlin, these structures meld, punctuate, challenge or lend unity and presence to the contradictions of a cityscape. By contrast a more radical approach, where the metropolis is recast into wholly new sculptural patterns to replace or cover it with a new ‘community of order’, is depicted in works such as Iakov Chernikhov’s visionary industrial cities of the 1930s.
A parallel path begins with memorials – objects that, as grand as Fontaine’s ‘National Cemetery’ or as small as a Viennese memorial stone, have their own sense of solitude, and call on the memory of the first built works in our long history: those stone blocks from which both architecture and written language come, on which the first glyphs appeared and from which the earliest lasting records of human history can be discovered.
From symbols of memory we turn to spaces that shape knowledge or encourage us to transcend the everyday; from Alvaro Siza’s Malagueira community centre, designed to talk to the geometries of the universe around us, to Antti Lovag’s ‘Structure de Rencontre et Reflexion’ – a space at once for meditation and encounter.
The final section of the exhibition looks at experiments for capsular living, universal structures and fundamental forms, from Louis Kahn’s meditation on the shape and shadows of primary forms in sunlight to Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Geodesic Perspex Chandelier’ (which was made as a wedding present for Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon in 1960) and Ugo La Pietra’s tent-like communication cells for the emerging electronic city.Drawings have long been the tools to think the shapes and situations of architecture, and the last room of the show tries to suggest in all its variety the persistent idea of a collector’s cabinet, designed to house those thoughts.
Notes to Editors
The exhibition is a collaboration between the curatorial team of Drawing Matter (drawingmatter.org) and Hauser & Wirth Somerset.