Light and dark

The contrast between Junya Ishigami’s installation at the Barbican’s Curve gallery and Peter Zumthor’s Serpentine Pavilion could not be starker, but each ‘building’ is an indictment of how architecture culture lives and dies by the spectacle. First, the Serpentine. The ongoing pavilion programme seems to oscillate wildly between architectural extravagance (Gehry, Libeskind, Nouvel, Niemeyer) and diaphanous ephemerality (Sanaa, Koolhaas). Along the way, the sense of a temporary pavilion has been all but entirely lost. The selection criteria – that these should be the first completed UK buildings by architects who have not otherwise built in this country – has upped the ante to such an extent that the pavilions are reduced to architectural one-liners that say more about their creator’s intentions and taste than they do about the programmatic demands of the gallery and the site.

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Zumthor has apparently created a ‘floriated garden of monastic calm‘, but it feels more like a stage set for a contemporary opera; impressively solid and bunker-like from a difference but a theatrical conceit of MDF and black paint from up close. In terms of its impact on the site, the pavilion has more in common with Niemeyer’s characteristically arrogant structure than the lighter, more conventionally pavilion-like buildings by Siza and Ito and Balmond, both of which chose to mediate between structure and park, rather than create an artificial divide, an oasis within an oasis. For Zumthor’s approach to be validated (‘This should be an escape, a place where nature is framed and compressed’), one has to take the view that Hyde Park is akin to the rest of London – noisy, frantic, hectic, confusing. A place that needs escaping from. This is obviously very much at odds from most people’s perception of a large public park, hence the rather tautological idea of building a place to escape from a place to escape.

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There’s also the thorny question of what happens to the pavilions once their short tenure is over. Many are allegedly crated up and sold to an anonymous collector, who is keeping them in storage for later re-installation (we think the Koolhaas balloon is in a warehouse somewhere). Ito and Balmond’s structure first pitched up alongside Battersea Power Station before being taken to the Hotel Beauvallon in the south of France. Demounting and reinstalling the Zumthor structure doesn’t look like a nut and bolt job, more like a total reconstruction, such is the illusion of a solid lump given by the hessian spread cladding. But underneath those black walls is a elegant and rather Zumthorian timber frame, so perhaps it’ll be more straightforward. Even so, we can’t help but feel that the disconnect between permanent and impermanent and the pressure on finding and securing a ‘big name’ architect is starting to prove a distraction in the Serpentine’s pavilion series.

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Junya Ishigami’s installation at The Curve gallery in the Barbican is, in comparison, almost nothing. A set of 54 columns, each barely 1mm thick and supported by an invisible thicket of supporting wires, ‘Architecture as Air’ stalks around the Curve in a migraine-inducing blaze of white on white. We’re asked to consider the way these almost invisible interventions mediate the exhibition space, creating subtle divisions and fresh angles on the large room. But it’s not really clear – literally – whether we should be marvelling at the structural sleight of hand and the meticulously rigging, or the formal simplicity of the columns and their cross members. Both are so vague and indistinct as to make any sense of spatial intervention more mental than physical – perhaps this is the point. The visitor is left hanging, and squinting, at a celebration of the insubstantial.

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Other things. Treasure Hunt, blogging about objects from the National Trust’s collections / White Hot Magazine of contemporary art / Black Country Atelier, ‘a collective workshop and architecture design studio in the Midlands and London’ / London-Tubemap.com, home to ‘a new, more geographically accurate version of the London Underground map’. Not sure how long this’ll last, but refreshing to have a new ‘straight’ map, albeit a rather more tangled one, rather than yet another jokey re-hash of the Beck map / see also, Henry Beck Rules, not OK? Breaking the Rules of Diagrammatic Map Design (hefty pdf, via haddock), a fascinating look at the rules governing schematic map design (42, 45 or 60 degree diagonals?), and when and how a designer should go ahead and break them for the sake of clarity.

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Edition 29, an iPad magazine / beautiful art and prints at omolo.com (via Chest, a tumblr) / photography by Iñigo Bujedo Aguirre / Brick Lane market in the 80s, capturing the bleakness rather effectively / we suspect the SCB take on Bridesmaids holds true for plenty of current Hollywood fare / Owl in the Sun, live at Glastonbury / a day in the woods 2011, make dens on the Isle of Wight. Recommended / Anatomy of Norbiton, a lovingly constructed guide to a non-place. ‘You have no object-specific neuron which fires consistently at the idea of Norbiton, as you do, for instance, for Jennifer Aniston.’ A landscape of lock-ups and allotments.

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Tumblr Tuesday: Standard Grey, a tumblr / Graham Linehan’s Why, That’s Delightful! / idk, a tumblr about art / black and white and grey, an art tumblr / fuck yeah eyegasms, a sort of National Geographic-style compilation of very vibrant images / etc, art and photography tumblr / Avec Livres, images about books / Unindexed, an intriguing tumble of scans / Still Life Quick Heart, excellent art tumblr / as is Les grandperes ont toujours tort.

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Cars: Pixar Falls for Intelligent Design (at Design Observer). The writer is overthinking it perhaps: ‘The design of the vehicles is devoid of any suggestion of natural selection. The cars have eyes in their windshield, and mouths, complete with teeth and tongues, between their headlights. (Apparently motorcycles don’t exist, presumably because the Designer couldn’t figure out how to give them a face.) They can flex and move their metal frames, undercarriages, and tires at will, and yet they are undoubtedly made of metal, plastic and rubber.’

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TheArtistAndHisModel, a design and culture blog / the Teak Weasel ferrets out fine sideboards, benefitting from the massive rise in value these once neglected items of furniture have experienced over the last decade / Ruralise, exploring the proposed community right to build in the UK and how this will help increase available housing stock / Art Fitzpatrick drew cars in the golden age of American auto design, exaggerating proportions and forms to make these machines the most potent symbols of their era.

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From the comments: ‘John Lloyd… has observed a phenomenon at dinner parties which he calls moasting‘, an unpleasant combination of moaning and boasting. Complaining about the chalet girl in Gstaad, or about poor treatment at the hands of Virgin Upper Class, or how the Eton English master is not up to scratch. To bring two unpleasant phenomena into one intensely awful new form of whinge takes a particularly British form of negative genius.’

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