Swiss Cottage Library, is a Modernist architectural landmark designed by Sir Basil Spence in the early 1960s, initially conceived as part of a much larger project for a grand civic site, comprising a new town hall and council offices. The library and its companion building, the Sports Hall (now demolished) – with which it formed an abstract composition – were the only parts built due to a change in the demarcation of council boroughs. The library building has a unique materiality, clad with vertical fins made of finely finished concrete with Portland stone aggregate – a visual play on the way the pages of a book fan out, giving the impression that one is entering the inner space of a book. The library is described by Historic England as ‘amongst the most ambitious architectural designs for a library found anywhere’ yet with continual shifts in the production and consumption of knowledge, including the rise of machine learning and AI, the functionality of such
buildings is undoubtedly altered.
Julie F Hill’s monumental sculptures, video and photographic works respond to this context and have been made using a mix of artificial intelligence algorithms trained on astronomical datasets and related holdings from Swiss Cottage Library to consider the library’s potential as a container for all knowledge. Scaffolding structures produced in collaboration with Gauld Architecture reference software architectures used in the construction of the artworks which increasingly produce, organise and distribute knowledge. Together they play with the notion of construction and ruin.
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The influence of technology and the ‘machine aesthetic’ in Modernist Architecture will be further explored in relation to the design and planning of social housing projects such as the nearby Alexandra Estate. This will culminate in artworks for the ground floor library windows as part of Camden Alive, a programme of arts and cultural events that celebrate the people of Camden.
An events programme featuring artists Disinformation and Paula Smolarska will expand on the themes of the exhibition and the context of the building. Details to be announced.
An accompanying publication will be launched at a special event at the library in early January that features a specially commissioned text, historical and installation/event imagery.