Creation from Catastrophe – How Architecture Rebuilds Communities

This week I had the pleasure of catching up with a friend at the Royal Institute of British Architects and visiting the exhibition entitled ‘Creation From Catastrophe’

The destruction of cities, whether manmade or natural, can present unique opportunities to radically rethink townscapes. The exhibition ‘Creation from Catastrophe – how Architecture rebuilds Communities’ explores the varying and sometimes magical ways that cities and communities have been re-imagined in the aftermath of disasters. It considers the evolving relationship between man, architecture and nature and asks whether we are now facing a paradigm shift in how we live and build in the 21st century.

Starting with the five alternative plans for London created after the Great Fire of 1666, the exhibition takes the audience on a journey through 18th century Lisbon, 19th century Chicago, 20th century Skopje, ending in current day Nepal, Nigeria, Japan, Chile, Pakistan and USA. The show has been running from January 27th and end on April 24th. If you are in London during this time it’s worth seeing. For further info please visit the RIBA website

Afritecture: Showing Architecture As the Most Visible Art Form.

Ramzi_Towers
Ramzi_Towers

The relationship between art and architecture remains strong. For me, they are the same. Moreover, the value and credit of  creative professionals, particularly from the African diaspora is often underplayed, undervalued and misrepresented. The term ‘Western Architecture’ conjures up images ranging from Greek Temples to Post Modern high rises for many. However, African architecture tends to be viewed through a very narrow prism; a stereotypical hut is usually what comes to mind. Moreover, African architecture is rarely observed with reference to antiquity or to exemplary contemporary architecture. Unfortunately some African architecture is seen by some as predominantly non-African influenced and executed by external cultures . For example, Ancient Egyptian architecture despite history and this region’s origins as part of a larger Ethiopian nation of pyramid builders comes to mind. It’s fascinating to see the surprise look on some people’s faces on being informed of other pyramids  in Africa. We can explore and debate the way in which history is written as we know there can be bias in its recording. Moving forward, it is very important for me to highlight the efforts of Architect Livingstone Mukasa, currently documenting innovative, functional and sustainable designs emerging across the African continent. Livingstone kindly answered a few questions I posed to him regarding the Afritecture initiative:

Royal Netherlands Emabassy - Addis Ababa
Royal Netherlands Emabassy – Addis Ababa

Why did you start Afritecture.org ?

Afritecture as an idea is quite old. I have always been toying around with the concept of showcasing examples of successful architectural projects that had a strong African vernacular.  The website itself was launched in 2009.  The term Afritecture, implying Africa in architecture – rather than African architecture, came to mind almost immediately when I decided a web resource would be the best way to house these projects.

How long have you been collating resources of design and master planning projects from the continent?

The cataloging began while an undergraduate in architecture school.  I was thinking of ways to impart on my projects certain stylistic elements from my background.  I found much of the celebrated work we had to study bland and not representative of the world from which I came from, or the ways many people I knew lived and built their environments.  This was 20 years ago and I am still at it.

Africa’s social, political and economic development continues to have a rather distorted image in the media. How far do you feel you can support a more positive and progressive picture of what Africa is really like?

Hope City - Accra
Hope City – Accra

Architecture is the most visible art form.  Everywhere you go, you experience it.  And over the centuries Africa has contributed immensely to the architectural world, even as recently as the modernist era.   It is this recent influence that remains largely unknown, or under reported.

From the late 1800s, thousands of African sculptures began arriving in European museums in the aftermath of exploratory expeditions and colonial plunder.  The aesthetics of these traditional sculptures soon became a powerful and well-documented influence among avant-garde artists like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.  At the time, these artists didn’t understand the meaning and functional nature of these sculptures, but they instantly recognised the spiritual aspect of the composition and quickly adapted these qualities to their own efforts to move beyond the naturalism that had defined Western art since the Renaissance.  So art that was previously labeled and regarded as primitive anchored the modern art movement.

This influence soon transcended into architecture. Trailblazing European architects like Le Corbusier, one of the founders of modern architecture,  and De Stijl pioneer Theo Van Doesburg used well-organised geometric and cubical forms from African art and West African spacial organisation in much of their notable works giving rise to the International Style –  then considered unconventional, unprecedented and innovative.

Yes, [western] media has its preferences when it comes to reporting not only on the continent but also on communities of African descent wherever they may be.  But anyone curious about something knows not to seek information from a single source.  So it is incumbent on all of us with stories to tell to develop and maintain multiple sources of information that can, collectively, change the prevailing narrative.

For further information please visit  Afritecture.org

Rebuild By Design- At the Copenhagen Architecture Centre

This week I had the pleasure of visiting friends in Denmark to explore contributing to a very worthwhile project this autumn. Fingers crossed, there will be more to reveal shortly.

In the meantime, it was great to catch up with a number of exhibitions and events in Copenhagen including ‘Rebuild by Design.’

When Hurricane Sandy landed on the American East Coast it left behind chaos and destruction. ‘Rebuild by Design’ was a competition created to find solutions to repairing the damages and making the coastline more resilient to future storms. The exhibition presents a series of 10 solutions. Among the winning projects were OMA and Danish firm BIG who both provided innovative solutions to making the coast a safer place to live.

I was impressed with the many case studies included in the show such as New Meadowlands and Hoboken in New Jersey. I was most impressed with Hunts Point Lifelines, a collaborative project involving Penn Design, Barretto Bay Strategies, Buro Happold and McLaren Engineering amongst others. Hunts Point Lifelines sees jobs and the City’s food supply as critical resilience infrastructure, and communities as powerful integrators of economic, social and ecological potential to strengthen the whole, rather than the water’s edge alone.

The exhibition is supported by Realdania and is developed by  Rebuild by Design in cooperation with The Danish Architecture Centre. The show runs until 9th April 2015 but for further info please visit the Danish Architecture Centre website.

Looking forward to Article 25’s 10 x 10 Project 2014

This week I’ve been reminded to look out for Article 25’s 10×10 project 2014. 10 x10 is a project which divides an area of London into a 10 x 10 grid, with the resulting squares being allocated to 100 prominent architects, designers and artists, who come together in the summer to create 100 pieces of work, giving 100 perspectives of London.10×10 creates a unique snapshot of London and raises money for Article 25, the UK’s leading architectural and construction aid charity. Details of the 2014 event will be released shortly but here’s last year’s video of what it’s all about. This is definitely a great initiative for a worthy cause.

For further info please visit Article 25

Ealing, London: Celebrating Architects of the Past as it Designs for the Future

Villa Savoye
Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye

I recently received an invitation to submit work as part of the Ealing Open Exhibition 2014 at the PM Gallery & House, Ealing Broadway, west London. I haven’t been there in quite a while so decided to visit the building last week. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the gallery’s current exhibition entitled ‘Living Laboratory’ featuring work by British photographer Richard Pare.

The exhibition features photographs of buildings by Le Corbusier and Konstantin Melnikov.  Pare’s work pays attention to the character of solid structures and how, through subtle and yet dramatic effects of light and varied seasonal conditions, they transform into some of the most recognisable examples of modernist architecture.

For over six decades, Le Corbusier revolutionised the ways in which we inhabit space, reinventing the idea of a house, designing radical furniture and proposing a variety of urban planning schemes. Amongst Pare’s work are some of Le Corbusier’s most famous buildings such as the Capitol Complex in Chandigarh, India and the Villa Savoye near Paris. Execution of the architect’s celebrated ‘ five points of architecture’ are illustrated with fine examples of open plan spaces, free from the requirements of supporting walls,horizontal windows, light- filled interiors and roof gardens that create iconic and immediately recognisable buildings.

Equally, Konstantin Melnikov was one of the leading modernist architects whose radical work emerged during a period of little more than a decade when practitioners were endeavouring to establish a new architecture for a new age. His work in the exhibition includes the family home, which served as an experimental studio and his personal investigation into the concept of the functioning house. The show runs until 11 May 2014.

The PM site comprises Pitzhanger Manor, the Grade 1 listed house designed by British architect Sir John Soane and gallery, located in the extension added in the 1940’s.  Ealing Council has started a major programme to conserve and develop Pitzhanger Manor, the gallery and adjacent park.The project vision is to:

“…reveal and restore this remarkable historic villa in its original landscape and – through innovative and imaginative interpretation, activities and education – enrich all visits by local residents, students of architecture and Soane scholars worldwide.”

Please visit the PM Gallery  & House website for further details. http://www.ealing.gov.uk/pmgalleryandhouse

Celebrating British Architecture and Welcoming French Talent!

The Gherkin by Foster and Partners
The Gherkin by Foster and Partners

This week I had the opportunity of visiting two very different exhibitions. This first was the RIBA’s ‘The Brits Who Built the Modern World.’ The show is part of a season of events and exhibitions celebrating the work of some of the UK’s most prominent architects – Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Nicholas Grimshaw, Michael Hopkins and Terry Farrell.

The show runs until 27th May 2014 in the new ground floor gallery at the RIBA’s headquarters at Portland Place, London.

The gallery, designed by Carmody Groarke, was my office many years ago! I was interested to see its transformation and it meets with my approval!

One can certainly say, as ambassadors for  architecture, each practitioner is responsible for some of the world’s most recognisable and iconic buildings. These practitioners were born within six years of each other in the 1930s and have greatly influenced the profession and its status over the last 40 years.

Lloyds of London by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners
Lloyds of London by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners

The exhibition provides a timeline of designs, revealing more about iconic buildings, their practices and architectural influences. It explores the reasons behind a British/global success story with over 190 photographs, drawings and models taken from RIBA’s collections and  participating architectural practices.

The exhibition accompanies the BBC TV series of the same title. Please see the link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03vrz4f

The RIBA is also hosting a special evening in conversation with the architects on 11th March. For further details please visit

http://www.architecture.com/WhatsOn/RIBAPublicProgramme/TheBritsWhoBuiltTheModernWorld/TalksandEvents/TheBritsWhoBuilttheModernWorld–NormanFoster,RichardRogers,TerryFarrell,NicholasGrimshawMichaelandPattyHopkinsinconversation.aspx#.Uwd1DiidDFI

My second exhibition definitely had a French feel to it. 5th Base Gallery in London’s Brick Lane welcomed Paris gallerist Jean Pierre Lorriaux and his selection of emerging young French artists to London.  The show featured a vibrant array of contemporary painting, photography, collage and sculpture, leaving me inspired and  intrigued enough to follow the careers of artists Andreo-Wol, J. Decoux Bechaud and Florence Mouillot-Gaultier amongst others. The show runs until 26th February.

For further details please visit http://www.5thbase.co.uk/

Two worthwhile exhibitions to see if you’re in London this weekend. Wishing you  great weekend wherever you are!

Renovation of Shaftesbury Hall

Shaftesbury Hall with new NLS facility
Shaftesbury Hall with new NLS facility

I have been invited to be part of the design team  renovating  Shaftesbury Hall, a 19th century building in Haringey, north London. The design proposal includes a mural to visually enhance the exterior of the building which is an asset to the local community.

North London Samaritans (NLS) own the ‘Tin Tabermacle’ and intend to use part of the facility to support local community members, particularly those who find themselves in a state of distress, despair or even suicidal. North London Samaritans also intend to renovate the hall for community use.

The concept proposals show how the hall can be retained and rejuvenated to modern standards of building performance, whilst retaining the qualities that have made the hall a cherished local building.

The methods and construction materials originally used were not intended to either be robust or to offer much in the way of insulation. Asbestos, now known to be very deleterious to health, is used on the roof. The walls, profiled ‘tin’ sheet externally, timber board cladding on the internal is uninsulated, no longer weather tight and beyond practical maintenance. Initial surveys indicate that the core structure is intact and could be refurbished. It is therefore proposed that the retained structure be clad with modern insulated profiled metal sheeting on both the walls and the roof.

The colour and profile will evoke the spirit of the original. Internally the structure would remain exposed as it is currently, walls will be painted boards and the floor a suspended real timber floor. Providing very much the feel and ambience of the original 19th century hall but in an envelope that has 21st century performance.

The defensive scale fencing is to be replaced with walling that suits the residential setting, with landscaping that is domestic in scale and easy to maintain.

At the rear of the hall the NLS will build a purpose facility, physically connected to the hall but distinctly separate visually and in operation, allowing the hall to function as a community facility without interference with the work of the NLS volunteers.The purpose built facility provides opportunity for a further community benefit in the form of a community mural/ art installation. This I very much support as it provides an opportunity for wider engagement and local ownership, particularly amongst local youth and school children who can be  given the opportunity to participate in the making of a community landmark.

Shaftesbury Hall footpath with proposed mural wall
Shaftesbury Hall footpath with proposed mural wall

NLS want to work with everyone who is interested from the local community to create a Tin Tabernacle for the 21st century.  I will  join the NLS and Paul Fletcher of Through Architecture in presenting the proposal at a community consultation at 19.30 on 10th July at Bounds Green School (Lower Junior Hall) For further information please visit www.northlondonsamaritans.org.uk

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