Week 03// 12/02 - 18/02
OSA Magazine is a platform for documenting, sharing and publicising the varied agendas of students at Oxford Brookes School of Architecture.
Here on our new weekly update, we will be recommending arts and culture events currently open in London and Oxford. We'll also be sharing articles from our limited edition print publications past, present and future, so you'll still be able to read contributions from the OSA writers, even if the magazines are sold out.
Student of the week:
Our featured student of the week is
Architecture Postgraduate Second Year// DS3
Rose Revolution Square
The drawings express the fragmented public space left on Rose Revolution Square and contrasted it with the more populated nearby spaces like the metro square. The individual drawing isolates the spaces accessible to pedestrians and expresses the convoluted connections and passages between them, using the technique of topology to express both their interconnectedness and separation via the numerous routes between the two places. Like in Nolli's plans of Rome, the spaces are highlighted and the buildings or inaccessible elements are subtracted.
Isolating the series of spaces in storyboard style frames helps give the sense of islands with vague connections hinted at by the routes cut off by the frames. The islands express the minimal space leftover by the dominance of road networks and a neglect of public space. The breaking up of gathering space is most visible in the fragmented landscaping of Rose Revolution Square itself.
The combined drawing is an unseen view which was more about revealing the two contrasting levels, while also highlighting the demolished Soviet monuments along with the spaces left over or elements that have replaced them. Exploring the square through drawings let us understand the square as a manipulation of the state and neoliberalism above ground while leaving a more personalised individual articulation in the abandoned spaces below.
Undergrad// Unit E
Unit E Plaster Workshop
As architects, the medium we use to design is space. Negative space is the space between walls in which we inhabit. The aim of Unit E’s plaster workshop was to truly get to grips with this and gain a deeper understanding in the medium we will be using in our future careers.
As with any type of casting, the negative space within the mould turns out to be the positive space once cast, meaning that the space we inhabit must first be the positive space within the mould prior to casting. This took a while to understand, but by the end of the day, despite a few mishaps, most of us turned out with a successful plaster cast.
Moving forward, our unit will continue to use casting methods as a way of understanding the spaces we are aiming to create while developing our proposals.
Events around Oxford and London:
Museum of London London Visions: Exaggerated Realities for Possible
Dates: Until 15 April
Walkable London: Upgrading the Urban Prosperity Engine
Dates: 16 February
Time: 13:15- 13:45
Events visited by OSA members:
MArchD 1// Urban Design
Natural Artifice: Architecture, Photography and the Construction of Reality- Frederik Petersen
Location: Glass Tank (Until the 19th of February)
Currently displayed in the Glass Tank (downstairs in the Abercrombie building) is a thought provoking exhibition - Natural Artifice. I recommend checking it out before it’s taken down at the end of February; a variety of artists’ work confronts the role of photography as a way of telling narratives, and touches on its relationship to architecture. Through photographed dioramas and sculptures, the exhibition raises questions about the power of the photographer’s lens to trick the viewer - to obscure and to reveal.
I was lucky enough to speak with one of the contributors to the exhibition, Frederik Petersen, about the relationship between themes suggested by the exhibition and architecture. I wanted to write about his views on the exhibition, but as I was transcribing the interview I realised that to paraphrase would be to do him a disservice. This is what we spoke about.
Kerry Fox: I was looking at your work (photographs of waxworks and dioramas), and how these false creations are starting to look real behind the lens of the camera. It reminded me of how we create visuals of architecture that are looking increasingly real as more rendering software develops, how that looks more and more real as time goes by, and I wondered if you had any comments about what that might mean for architecture in general?
Frederik Petersen: I think there are quite a lot of people that have attempted to define architecture, and it’s a very difficult thing to define architecture. Most people fail in one way or another because the field is so broad. But one of the things that, perhaps, almost since the profession has been able to call itself a profession has defined it, has been this idea of the vision between representing the vision and actualising it, or making it real; I think what we call realising the built work. And this division between representation and realisation is perhaps one of the things that defines architecture, or has defined architecture until now. Because with a lot of production techniques that come on now there might not be a human link after the representation. You see architects taking over not just the rendering but the making of production drawings, that could be produced without any more human interpretation in the link. So in that sense, the link, the thing that has so far defined architecture starts to be eroded. There is a bridge created between representation and realisation to a degree that we haven’t seen before. And so in that schematic I think it becomes interesting to ask through other medias what happens when you bridge the gap between representation and realisation. And this is somehow the renderings you talk about, they somehow try to do that, but photography also does that. But photography does it coming from another angle. Photography looks at reality and turns it into representation where architecture traditionally has started from nothing, and is turning a representation into reality later on.
KF: That’s leading quite nicely into another of my questions. So as photography has become more of a medium of recording what our lives are like, the fine art side of things has become more conceptual and surreal and more about emotion than about actual lived experience. Do you think that as VR and new techniques of filming or of experiencing the world in three dimensions in virtual ways develop that photography will change?
FP: That’s a really complex question, and if you look at the history of art, and I suppose of painting, what you allude to is that with the invention of photography there’s this idea that for the first time painting is finally set free not to represent visual reality, but can pursue its own meaning. And I guess what you are suggesting is that with the invention of something that can reproduce reality to a greater degree with three dimensions, different kinds of motion capture technologies and so on, that photography will be set free to pursue things that it did not do before.
FP: I don’t have an answer for that question. I think it’s highly complex, and also because photography has gone through this development where it’s become a medium that everyone has access to. The idea of a photographer as a profession is almost undermined because everyone can have access to it.
KF: Everyone has their iPhone camera.
FP: Everyone has access to incredible photographic equipment, that are of a higher quality almost than most of the masterpieces of photographic history have been made on. So there’s so much going on. I do believe that both historically and in this intuitive way that we read the world that photography has a particular affinity with reality, something that most other medias do not have. There’s a direct translation from reality to the sensor or the film plane, into the image itself. And I think that, even though there are a lot of arguments within the theory of photography that says that perhaps photography is the least like reality of all medias, I do think that even in popular culture photography and reality will always be very strongly linked. Also if you look at something like the legal sphere, of course photography and video recordings, they can actually tell you truth, where the judicial system puts down that the evidence of photography is somehow stronger than witness testimony.
KF: That’s very interesting.
FP: Maybe I should just mention that some of the circuit of this exchange between photography and architecture and reality and representation, I have attempted to map this out in this diagram. (Frederik is referring to a diagram included in the Natural Artifice pamphlet, available to purchase directly from him.) But this is a diagram that is more of a question, than it trying to push an idea that has materialised. This is more an object for discussion. Does the reality and representation circuit really fit into a diagram?
KF: You were talking earlier about eroding the gap between the representation and the built reality. Do you think that that might have consequences on how we perceive architecture in terms of how we usually create visuals that are these utopian realities? Do you think it will force us to look at and interrogate the way that we represent architecture more in terms of who’s using it in our representations and how it’s being used, or do you think that it will help us to create that idealised architecture in the real world?
FP: One of the things that I think will happen, and I should probably say that any attempt to look at the future is doomed, but one of the things that I think is striking is that, in terms of economy, the virtual worlds that we inhabit, whether they are fictional worlds from books or films, whether they are computer games, or whether they are different kinds of simulations that help us drive, different kinds of maps and so on, these things start to be, in terms of economic value, much greater than the built world. And that seems to suggest that architects will not just use virtual media to design through, but will also design for virtual worlds. And so the dystopian, or any other kind of world, could be what architectural education, and the field as total, will be focused on. It might be that we are looking into a future where it will be a minority of architects that are designing for this more static reality that we call built architecture.
KF: I wondered if you had any thoughts on the idea of photography fooling our eyes through the lens of the camera, making something appear real that is not. That’s a very human thing, if you showed the same photograph to an AI they’d probably be able to pick out that it’s not real whereas with humans, the way our minds work, we can be fooled by that sort of thing quite easily. Do you think there’s anything that could come out of exploring that way that we can fool ourselves in terms of architecture, or does understanding how people work lead to better buildings?
FP: I think there are some very direct answers to that because in a lot of architecture, if you look at the history of architecture the idea of the perspective is about fooling the senses so that you can imagine into things, so you can imagine a spatial depth beyond what is actually there. There’s a proposed spatial depth and there’s an actual spatial depth and these things work together. We have a lot of painting that does that, a lot of Italian painting does that in conjunction with buildings. To answer your question, we should have a look at some of the work.
KF: So I was thinking of the pieces in the middle (by Onorato and Krebs), where the wooden frames look like they’re extending the buildings out but actually if you moved the camera a few centimetres one way or the other the idea would change.
FP: Maybe if I take you around to another piece. (Frederik leads me to Richard Barnes’ work) In the 1970s Hiroshi Sugimoto, who’s one of the most famous photographers and most well-paid photographers in the world, published his diorama series where because of his fame he could go to different museums around the world and he could get access to habitat dioramas of the national Museum of Natural History in New York and he could set up his light and photograph the habitat dioramas. Sugimoto did this in black and white film so that meant that the photographs he output were very difficult to see that what he was photographing was not reality. He took the habitat diorama and enforced, somehow supported the idea of it as an illusion. So in his photographs there is something weird about them, but they look like a real reality, they look like amazing photographs. These photographs are from the 2000s so everybody who’s been photographing dioramas after Sugimoto has had to deal with him and his amazing work. So Richard Barnes, for instance, says ‘of course, I could not do what Sugimoto had done’, so in Barnes’ work he looks at the dioramas, not in their pristine state, but in the state of them being either refurbished or taken down. So when you see his photographs it’s always habitat dioramas in the state of disarray. So instead of supporting the illusion he’s going the other way, he’s saying that there’s a reality within the breakdown of the illusion. And also his fascination has to do with, you were talking about framing before with Onorato and Krebs’ work, but his work is also a lot about the frames that naturally come from storing this. So for instance in this (a photograph of a taxidermied goat being transported in a crate) you see the way they have to place the ungulate in this case, you see a support here; the supports of course mime the rocks that it’s supposed to climb on so it starts to be this weird world where things that are not there are represented in a material that has no respect for the reality that it comes from. So that’s the sort of weirdness that I think makes these photographs work. And of course this is taken to a more extreme consequence in Onorato and Krebs’ work, which is amazing photography, and perhaps is more easily applicable to architectural experimentation. (Frederik turns on the monitor, which shows a video of a tower block that seems to be on fire. The fire is actually working its way over a wooden sculpture which aligns with the lines of the building, far closer to the camera.) When we started assembling the work for the exhibition, it was just after the Grenfell tower fire, so this is one of the works that, even though they are made quite a lot earlier, I thought there was a new resonance to this. It becomes a much more sinister work knowing these things. I was passing by the tower the other day and I’d only seen images of it from far away, but when you stand close to it, you get this sense in your stomach of suction and you feel the gravity of what’s been happening. So there’s things like that where I feel that a lot of it doesn’t seem to be directly applicable or relatable to architecture understood as buildings, perhaps on a more poetic level it starts to talk.
Frederik Petersen has conducted audio interviews with some of the artists, which will soon be available at http://entreentre.org, and the hand printed Natural Artifice pamphlet is available for sale directly from him.
Frederik Petersen is also a tutor in David Shanks’ BA Unit B. It is an experimental studio which uses the tools and methodology of science to speculate about how architecture can change reality. Continuing the theme of representation and realisation, the studio is about what happens during the realisation of ideas. Watch this space for examples of student work from the studio on our Student of The Week feature.
OxArch events of the week: