Monday, 28 July 2014

200words: Louis Kahn - The Power of Architecture

"Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel."
Ezekiel 13v4

There is a recognisable formula to the eulogising typology of fan-exhibit: a fawningly dreary hodge-podge of uncritically splayed miscellany, soundbites, remnants left by  a man who could do no wrong. The whole dimly lit ensemble reads like a skim through the colour plates illustrating an inconclusive essay yet to be written, I am titillated and briefly diverted, and I leave hungry, none-the-wiser.

This exhibition concerns itself with 'the Power of Architecture', as if it were a brute force, as if that were a good thing. This exhibition concerns itself with the phenomenon of an individual, without a sensitivity to any meaningful context for these isolated details of Kahn's life and work now cluttered into a reliquary. It is in this very contextlessness that the motive force for such an exhibition is betrayed: to reinforce all myths of genius, to validate the narrative of creation ex mystique.

Against this, however, there is footage on one screen, perhaps by Nathanial Kahn, which dwells at first on the inhabitation of the National Assembly Building, in its shade weathered elders share a cup of tea, glinting dazzling faces blur past in their unmonumental everyday urgencies. Then the building is left behind altogether and we dwell on the rich human landscape of so much that is not-architecture, so much that is rusty and perpetual, fervent and alive. This vast portrait of the Dhaka into which Kahn's geometry is pressed suggests the subtle tensions and reciprocities which give to the form a richer endurance.

Design Museum

Thursday, 3 July 2014

200words: kings cross development

“Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.” Matthew15v27

My experience of Kings Cross was marked by two unexpected encounters, aptly two necessarily and inextricably constitutive of the development's totality. The first, a gate ajar to the Skip Garden. 'Are you open?'; 'No, but help yourself to a look around.' said she washing some tin plates under a plastic roof. And all around me at once, verdent emergence, a mellow, fruitful bricolage. 'Thankyou.' A wander further and security detail betray a happening of quite another kind. 'Have you registered?' 'No..' 'Would you like a canape?' Google's eyewear is being launched, a protoyped product, one of a billion identical devices primed to usher an age of augmented urbanity. 'Ok Glass' These two encounters could be comically or tragically contrasted, but more interesting, I think, is to consider the enterprise which absorbs these both and stands to profit by urbanism done well. This city quarter is taking shape inorganically, with stupendous capital ventured on its success - the chickens of such speculative development must be counted before they are hatched. All this simulated and subsidised cultural incubation, therefore, seeks pre-emptively to engender that intangible quality of place, that energetic buzz to a something willing itself to emerge: the city as a happening. Would that all urban spaces were so motivated, even cynically, to be present tense continuous and ecstatic.

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A little about the architecture: If, conceptually and ethically, we permit this vast and profiteering form of development there is little to fault in its realisation, Kings Cross does all the details of aggressively slick urbanism with superlative panache. Chipperfield's elemental and bullish One Pancras Square revives the pleasure of monumental cast iron in architecture with warmth and intricacy. Allies&Morrison's Two Pancras Square shimmers: the gradiated window reveals subtly give the appearance that the glassy soul of the building soars while it yet withdraws into a mysterious interior as it ascends. This variation, somewhat akin to entasis renders an elevation sublime, and combined with the gilded highlights, the architects achieve exactly the distraction desired. Distraction from the volumetrics at work, unit to plot, net to gross, floor to ceiling squeezed, heaved and disguised in the ruthlessly rectilinear gridded graph paper of New London vernacular.