OSA Review: Space Popular, OxArch Reconstruction Lecture

“the ultimate site for architecture is in the mind”

Space Popular Architects are a design and research practice founded in Bangkok in 2013 and currently based in London. Our speaker for the lecture was co-founder and co-director Fredrik Hellberg, who along with his practice partner Lara Lesmes also leads “Tools for Architecture”, an undergraduate research unit at the Architectural Association. The lecture explored the conceptual side of architecture, examining the intersection between the traditional and the virtual by using cutting-edge technology such as Augmented Reality and real-time simulation to blur the boundaries between the existing and the imagined.

Space Popular creates a variety of both temporary and permanent projects and exhibitions. In 2017, Space Popular teamed up with glass manufacturing company Sto Werkstatt in London to create The Glass Chain, an installation which took inspiration from early German Modernists’ futuristic visions of glass structures, specifically those connected to the Glass Chain letters of 1919 and 1920. These letters between several high-profile Modernists speculated about the future of glass in architecture, its spatial qualities and its status as the ‘non-material’ poised to reshape architecture.

The structure was made from opaque glass, ceramic-printed on one side with saturated patterns, and left blank on the other. To add to the visual richness they had created, Space Popular added an extra layer to the exhibition by incorporating Augmented Reality to the sculpture – revealing 3D spaces inside a planar surface. Visitors were able to touch the flat surface while seeing augmented 3D space superimposed onto what they were touching.

Another project explored in the lecture was Space Popular’s work for the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018: The Timber Hearth - in celebration of the DIY movement and the blend between technology and craft. The Timber Hearth’s key idea was that of a factory-built standard core, around which a home is built by the owner –this core contains all the necessary amenities for a house, with the rest of the home completely customisable. Space Popular used a range of inspirations for this project, from traditional layouts of early Scandinavian timber houses, to the Folkhemmet movement of Post-War Sweden. The aim was to celebrate the aesthetic range of DIY in homes, so Space Popular built the model and prototype for the Biennale by hand themselves.

Fredrik Hellberg described Space Popular’s representational style as a product of its time: using surreal collages, early internet/New Wave -inspired aesthetic visuals, and a constant exploration for new tools for visualisation and representation. One can also make an easy link between Space Popular’s aesthetic and the vibrance of Bangkok, the city in which it was conceived.

By examining the impacts that the future’s blend of tradition with the virtual could have on architecture, design, and life as we know it, Space Popular envisages itself like the Parisian Beaux-Artes movement of the late 18th Century: “Something new is coming, but we don’t yet know what”.

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