Thoughts on Unplanned Architectures


Saturday, January 28th I went to the opening of Unplanned Architectures at the Neutral Ground in Regina (See Laura’s post).   The opening was busy with most of the artists in attendance to speak to their work and answer questions.  Opening along side Unplanned Architectures Saturday night was Diane Morin’s Capteurs d’Ombres

 The first piece your likely to notice entering the space is Dagmara Genda’s Collapsed Building, a graffiti like print covering the wall near the entrance way.   The image is of a building, with its centre caving in and walls seemingly melting onto the floor. 

The artist chose the apartment building she lived in growing up in Warsaw for her subject.  She spoke to the architectural connections between East and West during the cold war, how the dialog between the two sides was more open than most perceive.  She also contrasted the optimism of her family immigrating to Canada, to the West, in search of the good life with the current rental housing crisis in Saskatchewan.  Considering the lack of affordable rentals and the poor condition of dwellings she’s found that the promise of the West has not been fulfilled.  

 The curving form of Genda’s walls reminded me of the weathered, rose hued ruins of Petra.  The theme of failure and abandonment resonated with my memories of the Nabatean Capital.  Though extremely successful and powerful for a time, change in political and economic conditions along with natural disasters helped to draw away Petra’s glory.  Eventually a loss of order and ability to maintain the City’s infrastructure lead to abandonment.

Bruce Montcombroux presented Assembly is the Reverse of Disassembly a group of three model structures featuring geodesic domes.   Most interesting of the three was Case Study no. 22, a burnt out model home complete with a comforting campfire smell.  I appreciated the contrast between the visual destruction and ruin and olfactory pleasure and nostalgia.

For Montcombroux, the house was a combination of Pierre Koenig’s Los Angeles Modernist homes with the idea of failure, particularly the failure of a Buckminster Fuller dome (there is a geodesic dome on the roof of the burnt house) which in Montreal’s Expo 67 example caught fire during renovations.

His first model, on the left as you enter, Car Top Dome after Drop City, embodies failed utopias, in this case the failure of Drop City an artists commune from the 1960s.  The model is shaped like a Drop City home, with a Fuller dome filling out the top. 

All the models are built-up on crates which double as the way Montcombroux transports his work. I thought the crates added a commentary on the placeless/unrooted aspect of many modern structures, neighbourhoods and even cities.  The idea that one could pack up the house and move it away.  Or pack up your ‘home’ for an exact structure somewhere else. 

T + T’s (Just like) Starting Over has two components: one a diorama and architectural drawing of an unfinished tree house and the other architectural drawings of “carchitecture” mirco-buildings made out of vehicles.  The “carchitecture” drawings had a very post-apocalyptic vibe to them.  These six images come out of a future without space for houses nor material resources for construction beyond the junk yard.  I also see the element of unplanned in their individuality, as opposed to the tract-subdivision’s intentionality and neighbourhood design codes.   

There is something playful and fun about the images too, taking conventions of architectural drawing and providing a subject derived out of a child-like imagination.

Tyler Brett (one half of T + T) commented that the car made up part of the vernacular of his neighbourhood and so it seemed to be an appropriate building block for dwellings.  In particular, mirco-architecture, (kind of like these) for small homes in a recession period.

The second portion of this piece are three small diorama’s, a play on architectural displays, of a yet to be completed tree home.  Brett was inspired by the construction of the Olympic Village at False Creek, reimagining the setting with more natural and environmentally friendly materials (wood with wood, building on natural structures). The winter scene, the artist commented, brings ambiguity of either abandonment or postponement of the project. 

Yet to be completed or abandoned structures were a familiar part of my experience in Jamaica in 2007.  It is common for buildings to be under construction for many years as portions are completed until the money runs out and work stops.  The natural setting in Brett’s dioramas also recalled the abandonment in Jamaica of structures, and in general the imposition of nature of the built form as time passes.  The most telling example I can recall was the state of this Great House we found during a tour of a citrus plantation, South of Montego Bay.  In this example the tree has subsumed the fort in an act of deconstruction.

Andreas Buchwaldt’s Mobius Wall was the final piece.  Here a series of wires pull upright a small wall (transparent slats with beads) that is back-lit and projected onto the far gallery wall.  There is a pause in the projection and then the wall is lit again as it falls back down to its original position. 

My friend really liked this work, particularly the space that the light created between the two walls. 

I was initially reminded of the a  Holodeck (a virtual reality contraption from the second generation of Star Trek TV shows and films), with the grid-like projection on the far wall.  The idea of a virtual space was aided by the reaction of patrons, who clung to the walls in order not to disrupt the projection during the artist’s discussion.  This, in effect, defined a cube like area of light between the walls, creating an effective invisible barrier. 

As I spent more time with the work, I began to associate the movement of the projected wall with construction; the slow, irregular rise, the low whine of the motor all participate in the building event.  There is even an unveiling of sorts when a sudden, sharp snapping into place, audibly and visually draws the viewer’s attention to the now sturdy wall.  The projector then shuts off for a period of time and the up right projected wall, and now bare gallery wall, are easily forgotten.  After several minutes the reverse takes place and once again the wall moves, this time falling down, receding and surrounding the space.

I found the raising and lowering very complementary to the life of most buildings who have auspicious, news worthy beginnings only to fade into the obscurity of urban life, until the end, when the removal becomes news worthy and people pay attention once again.  The action of construction and destruction are engaging while the useful life of the un-projected wall is forgettable, mundane and routine.


** Mouse over image for credit info


Thoughts on Unplanned Architectures

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