The Indivisible Present and Why Architecture Should Tell a Story

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Yesterday I went to Modern Art Oxford to see their exhibition The indivisible present. The artworks collected, predominantly sculpture and video, act as a medium to explore our understanding of the less-perceptible by allowing the viewer to “dwell” in confrontation with the subject. In this way the image can be seen to act transformatively upon time, creating an expanded moment.

The above images are photographs of photographs taken by the artist Viola Yeşiltaç titled I really must congratulate you on your attention to detail. In these works, the artist created a series of paper sculptures which were temporarily balanced and captured in the moment before their collapse. In the process, the transitory moment is preserved and rendered permanent [subject to the act of sunlight on the print, or their own destruction].

CCTV Building Diagram 01

CCTV Building Diagram 02

I also watched a talk by Ole Scheeren titled Why great architecture should tell a story. He begins with an interrogation of the doctrine of ‘form follows function,’ and suggests that we might instead adopt Tschumi’s suggestion that ‘form follows fiction,’ not in the sense of the implausible but rather through the reality of the people who live or work in a building.

To expand on this, Scheeren uses the example of the CCTV building, for the design of which he worked in collaboration with Rem Koolhaas. Scheeren expresses the notion of of ‘organisational structures’ as being central to the project, at the core of which is structural thinking which in turn generates a series of relationships and narratives. As a form of ‘narrative hybrid,’ the architecture is a structural system that arranges programme and function as well as the social experience or emotions of the user.

This process was evidenced by the diagrammatic drawings of the project, which took on the characteristics of biological drawings of organs and circulatory systems. At the apex of the building, three structural glass discs form the floor of the cantilever and provide views of the streets below. In this moment the building acts transformatively upon its context to expose views which literally alter our perspective of the city.

These ideas seem relevant to the project for the Park Lane Hotel, although I’m not entirely sure how at this point. I mentioned on Tuesday that parts of the soldered model made me think of ways of directing views out of or bringing light into the building, but I wonder if there might be more. For the immediate present, I want to continue working with my model (I spent today making pieces which I have since removed from play), but the Scheeren talk also gave me an idea for a collage. The streets of ‘Spanish Harlem’ are populated by many taco bars and burrito joints – might the oyster bar in the boxing gym find its contemporary analogy in the supplantation of the restaurant of the Park Lane Hotel?

2 thoughts on “The Indivisible Present and Why Architecture Should Tell a Story

  1. Sounds like a really great exhibition – I wish I could go to Oxford to see it. I saw in the blurb that it features the work of Pierre Huyghe who is one of my favourite artists!
    Anyway it would have been great if you had included a sketch, drawing or development of the model to show how you want to move forward with the ideas you have written about – as we discussed on Tuesday, the soldered language needs something specific to react to in order to have more embedded meaning. One way to start would be to make it a sight directing device to start constructing a line between the windows of East Harlem and that of the Park Lane Hotel. But your mention of the exhibition makes me wonder how you will incorporate the dimension of time, and the feeling that both East Harlem and Billionaire’s Lane will never be complete – always in some sort of weird balance or continual symbiosis with each other. It would be great for your intervention to reveal this. I found these architectural absurdist drawings today and thought they might be a useful inspiration for how to reintroduce a language of the uncanny on site: http://www.tomngo.net/archives/category/works/drawings or at least a drawing style to start to develop the anti-tower.
    I am intrigued by the idea of form following fiction and perhaps you use those quick sketchbook collages to experiment with a few ways in which you could intervene on site to do so – to give form to the money siphoned from East Harlem, the omni-present but invisible boundary of the census tract, the buffer zone of the park between these two polarised neighbourhoods etc. Looking forward to seeing where it goes…

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