Sarajevo: New Tissue
Sarajevo: New Tissue
San Francisco: Wave House
Excerpt from the essay Radical Reconstruction by Lebbeus Woods:
Twenty Tactics of a New Practice – Challenge old ideas of shaping space, thus of living. After destruction, it is not possible to immediately resume the old, disrupted ways of living. Indeed, this can only be done by regressing to them, led by the resurgence of social, political and professional institutions under whose authority they once existed. But too much has been suffered and lost, too much learned at too great a price to be quickly forgotten. The spirit of invention that makes survival possible under the extreme conditions created by destruction makes possible the new ways of living in a city that will, in a sense, always remain in a paradoxical state of destruction and construction. That the dynamics of change, were at the same time political, technological, epistemological and personal, are the ingredients of what may correctly be called a creative form of destruction in the city’s day to day existence. Rather, it elevates the “paradox” to a more complex plane of experience for everyone. The spaces of the old city were shaped to sponsor conventionality. In their damaged state, they offer an entirely new possibility for understanding the origins of both space and habitation. The architect leads the way by codifying this new understanding only in terms of space, without the fixed reference of habitation. The architect is a designer of space, not of living. The spirit of invention demanded by perpetual transformation thrives best in space shaped by its own invention.
Lebbeus Woods is widely regarded as the most exciting and original architectural visionary today. His body of theoretical work and his extraordinary drawings have served as inspiration for architects, artists and legions of students. Radical Reconstruction contains essays and projects that addresses the relationships between architecture and war, political revolution/reaction and natural disasters. These projects define new approaches to the reconstruction of buildings and urban fabric damaged by unpredictable and largely uncontrollable forces of both human and natural origin.
Lebbeus Woods | Radical Reconstruction
Essays by: Lebbeus Woods, Aleksandra Wagner & Michael Menser
Princeton Architectural Press
Albertinum Dresden | 1999.
BNF Paris | 1998.
Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek Weimar | 2004.
Biblioteca Nacional Madrid | 2003.
MOCA Los Angeles | 2000.
Sächsische Landesbibliothek Dresden | 2002.
Národní knihovna Praha | 2004.
Candida Höfer photographs rooms in public places that are centers of cultural life, such as libraries, museums, theaters, cafés, universities, as well as historic houses and palaces. Each meticulously composed space is marked with the richness of human activity, yet largely devoid of human presence. Whether it be a photograph of a national library or a hotel lobby, Höfer’s images ask us to conduct a distanced, disengaged examination through the window she has created.
Not purely architectural photographs, her rhythmically patterned images present a universe of interiors constructed by human intention, unearthing patterns of order, logic, and disruption imposed on these spaces by absent creators and inhabitants. Her photos of ornate, baroque interiors achieve images with extreme clarity and legibility while the camera maintains an observant distance, never getting too close to its subject.
Born in Eberswalde, just north of Berlin, in 1944, Höfer was a student at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art from 1973 to 1982, embracing film before going on to study photography under the tutelage of Bernd Becher. Since 1975 she has taken part in numerous group exhibitions and released a number of volumes with Thames & Hudson, including Candida Höfer: A Monograph, published in 2003.
Candida Höfer | Libraries
Introduction by Umberto Eco
Thames & Hudson
Tilty Barn, Essex, 1995
John Pawson was never meant to be an architect. As far as his father was concerned, his life was to be defined by Eton, Oxford and the family textile business. However, touched by the incendiary spirit of the late 1960’s, Pawson left school without completing his final exams, and even though he did his best in the family firm, he was acutely aware that he would never be able to match the business skills of his father.
It was time spent in Japan that turned him to thinking about architecture, and his connections with the London art world gave him the chance to put those experiences to practical use when he came back from Asia. Pawson had gone to Japan for the first time back in 1973, to escape from the emotional turmoil of an abandoned wedding. In the aftermath, he met someone at a party who offered him a first-class round-the-world ticket for £200, which he accepted without question. Tokyo was his first stop, partly inspired by a fascination with Zen and Japan, and a notion of becoming a Buddhist.
Akira Hayakawa, a karate instructor who had taught Pawson in Chester-le-Street when he was working in the family textile factory nearby, met him at Nagoya airport and introduced him to what was anything but the Japan of the Samurai and tea ceremonies that Pawson had been expecting. Instead, he found himself negotiating a grim landscape of of car factories, endless concrete developments with power cables dangling from every available surface, brash neon-lit Pachinko parlors and claustrophobic subways crammed with people.
Pawson, however, was determined to absorb himself in the Japan of his imagination and, upon arrival, insisted on staying at a ryokan. Part of the routine was a diet of fish paste and pickles for breakfast, a damp bed and a nine o’clock curfew. Still, this did not deter Pawson from further exploring his ideas about Buddhism and his genuine attraction to the monastic life. His friend Akria humored his plans and drove him to one of the most beautiful monasteries in Japan, at Ei-Heji in the North. While his brief stay at the monastery cured him of his desire to live as a Buddhist monk, Pawson retains a fascination and respect for both the spiritual and aesthetic concepts of Buddhism, which he still draws on for inspiration today.
Image / Fi McGhee & John Pawson (1999). Barn. London: Booth-Clibborn Editions
Text / Deyan Sudjic (2000). John Pawson: Works. London: Phaidon
B & R
Water Tower, Dieulourd, Lorraine, France 1972
Water Towers, 1965-82
Winding Tower, Fosse Noeux, no.13, Nord, France 1972
Grain Elevator, Beaumetz, Amiens, France 2000
Blast Furnace, Youngstown, Ohio 1983
Coal Bunker, Repelen Niederrhein, Germany 1973
Interior View, Georgsmarienhütte, Osnabrück, Germany 1987
Bernd and Hilla Becher are two of the most influential visual artists of our time. Since the beginning of the 1960s, they have documented industrial buildings whose architecture is totally dictated by their function. The Becher’s passion for these industrial structures has resulted in photographs that are a priceless treasure of cultural and technological history from a vanishing industrial era. These images render the unglamorous edifices with the same monumentality and timelessness as used for historically important ancient architecture or new designs. Their subjects evince an unexpected and controlled beauty, while even the most minute detail is reproduced with precision.
Bernd and Hilla Becher belong to a rare brand of artists who have felt such a passion for their subjects that they have constantly followed their own path and kept firmly to it, often going against the current trends in photography. They first attracted attention during the 1960s and early 1970s at joint exhibitions in Europe and the USA with artists working with minimalism and conceptual art. It was only later on that they were recognised as photographers.
The Becher’s photographs are immediately recognisable by their distinctive style. Symmetrically and with scientific precision they have reduced the individual structures, revealing them in an unforgettable manner. The buildings have been isolated from their surroundings, put centre stage, and reproduced without distortion. All that is superfluous and narrative has been stripped away. The light is diffuse, with no shadows and not a cloud in the sky. People are rarely present in the images, and if there are any it is by accident. The photographs show a fragmented world in which the subject fills the picture surface.
Bernd and Hilla Becher’s view of industrial buildings is historically rooted. At the same time, their voluminous documentation bears witness to a unique artistic rigour. Their way of photographing accentuates the structural similarities and differences in the various built structures. This is reinforced by their distinctive mode of presentation, used since the mid-1960s, with groups of photographs arranged in a grid pattern into typologies. The objects thus become more distinct in character and do not just tempt us into an analysis of the individual structures, but also open our eyes to see and discover these constructions in reality. The Becher’s artistry can be excellently summed up in the words of artist Paul Klee: “Art does not reproduce the visible, it renders visible.”
The current state of the museum’s central stair hall
In the Niobidensaal
In 1997 David Chipperfield Architects won an international competition for the restoration of Friedrich August Stüler’s 1859 Neues Museum in association with the restoration consultant Julian Harrap. Located on the Spree Island, in the heart of the former East Berlin, the building had initially been constructed to extend the space of the Altes Museum, built immediately to the south by Stüler’s teacher Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The original Neues design had formed part of an overall architectural concept for the Spree Island, prompted by Friedrich Wilhelm IV, of a series of art and archeological museums styled so as to promote a greater appreciation of classical Antiquity. Among these museums, and in terms of its construction and rich interior decoration, the Neues Museum was considered the most important monumental Prussian building of its era.
Seen today alongside the four other reconstructed museum buildings on the island, Stuler’s Neues Museum is the only structure still ruined from the war – a contrast that demonstrates ideas of history and decay in a compelling and powerful way, although throughout the building the degree of destruction varies greatly. Certain interiors have survived almost completely, with elaborate finishes and ceiling frescos still intact, while other building elements exist only as enclosures of a gaping void.
The power of the ruin stems not least from this exposed brickwork shell, investing the building, 150 years after it was first imagined, with the indelible presence of a picturesque ruin.
Given the evocative yet inaccessible space, the restoration of the Neues Museum followed a principle of conservation rather than reconstruction – this is, the design gives back only enough context so that the significance of the whole structure and the sequence of spaces contained within it are legible. Accordingly, the missing northwest wing and southeast bay are rebuilt, the enfilade of rooms is restored, and the stair and courtyard spaces are designed so as to maintain elements of the building’s own decay.
Thermal Bath Vals.
For twenty years Hélène Binet has photographed contemporary architecture and co-operated world-wide with the most renowned architects such as David Chipperfield, Zaha Hadid, Coop Himmelblau, Daniel Libeskind, Sauerbruch Hutton and Peter Zumthor.
She expresses the uniqueness of architecture, lets light and shade take effect, seizes walls and openings, corners and curves, to express through the use of her camera a personal point of view.
Hélène Binet has co-operated for over 10 years with Peter Zumthor and photographically recorded and also artistically interpreted all of his buildings.
Stunning collaboration between two Swiss masters of their respective crafts.
‘Photographs of the work of Peter Zumthor’ will be on show at the Gabrielle Ammann Gallery in Cologne, from September 4, 2009 to November 6, 2009.
Flashed around the world in September 2001, the pictures of the World Trade Center towers lying in ruins were both horrifying and—though few would openly admit it—strangely stimulating. The former because we instantly realized, with despair, that many people had died in the towers’ collapse, and that many others would suffer as a result of it for the rest of their lives. The latter because such a grand scale of destruction evoked an essential truth about human existence, a truth so disturbing that it is usually cloaked in denial: we are all going to die.
Not only will we die, but so will all our works. The great buildings, the great works of art, the great books, the great ideas, on which so many have spent the genius of human invention, will all fall to ruins and disappear in time. And not only will all traces of the human as we know it vanish, but the human itself will, too, as it continues an evolutionary trajectory accelerated by bioengineering and future technological advances. What all of this means is that we cannot take comfort in any form of earthly immortality that might mitigate the suffering caused by the certainty of our personal extinction.
It is true that through works of art, artists can live on in the thoughts and actions of others. This, however, is more of a comfort to the living than to the dead, and while it may help a living artist maintain a denial of death effective enough to keep believing that working and striving is somehow lasting, it is an illusion, and a pretty thin one at that. In contrast, the solidarity that develops between people who accept the inevitability of oblivion is more substantial and sustainable. When we witness an accident or disaster, we are drawn to it not because of ‘prurient interest,’ or an attraction to the pornography of violence, but rather to an event that strips away the illusions of denial and reveals the common denominator of the human condition. For the moment of our witnessing we feel, however uncomfortably, part of a much larger scheme of things, closer to what is true about our existence than we allow ourselves to feel in the normal course of living.
Religions have promised immortality and certainty in afterlives of various kinds, but for many today this is an inadequate antidote to despair. There are people who want to focus on the present and in it to feel a sense of exultation in being alive here and now, not in a postponed ‘later.’ This desire cuts across all class, race, gender, political and economic lines. In some religious lore, the ruins of human forms will be restored to their original states, protected and enhanced by the omniscient, enduring power of a divine entity. But for those who feel this is too late, the postponement of a full existence is less than ideal. For them, the present–always both decaying and coming into being, certain only in its uncertainty, perfect only in its imperfection–must be a kind of existential ideal. The ruins of something once useful or beautiful or symbolic of human achievement, speaks of the cycles of growth and decay that animate our lives and give them particular meaning relative to time and place. This is the way existence goes, and therefore we must find our exultation in confronting its ambiguity, even its confusion of losses and gains.
The role of art in all this has varied historically and is very much open to question from the viewpoint of the present. The painting and poetry of the Romantic era made extensive use of ruins to symbolize what was called The Sublime, a kind of exalted state of knowing and experience very similar to religious transcendence, lacking only the trappings of the church and overt references to God. Hovering close to religion, Romantic ruins were old, even ancient, venerable. They were cleansed of the sudden violence or slow decay that created them. There was something Edenic about them— Piranesi’s Rome, Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” Friedrich’s “Wreck of the Hope.” The best of such works are unsentimental but highly idealized, located intellectually and emotionally between the programmed horror of Medieval charnel houses and the affected nostalgia for a lost innocence of much architecture and painting of the late nineteenth century.
Taken together, these earlier conceptions are a long way from the fresh ruins of the fallen Twin Towers, the wreckage of Sarajevo, the blasted towns of Iraq, which are still bleeding, open wounds in our personal and collective psyches. Having witnessed these wounds—and in a palpable sense having received them–gives us no comfortable distance in which to rest and reflect on their meaning in a detached way. Hence, works of art that in some way allude to or employ these contemporary ruins cannot rely on mere depictions or representations—today that is the sober role of journalism, which must report what has happened without interpretation, aesthetic or otherwise. Rather it is for art to interpret, from highly personal points of view, what has happened and is still happening. In the narrow time-frame of the present, with its extremes of urgency and uncertainty, art can only do this by forms of direct engagement with the events and sites of conflict. In doing so, it gives up all claims to objectivity and neutrality. It gets involved. By getting involved, it becomes entangled in the events and contributes—for good and ill—to their shaping.
Thinking of Goya, Dix, Köllwitz, and so many others who bore witness and gave immediacy to conflict and the ruins of its aftermath, we realize that today the situation is very different. Because of instantaneous, world-wide reportage through electronic media, there no longer exists a space of time between the ruining of places, towns, cities, peoples, cultures and our affective awareness of them. Artists who address these situations are obliged to work almost simultaneously with them. Those ambitious to make masterpieces for posterity would do well to stay away, as no one of sensibility has the stomach for merely aestheticizing today’s tragic ruins. Imagine calling in Piranesi to make a series of etchings of the ruins of the Twin Towers. They would probably be powerful and original, but only for a future generation caring more for the artist’s intellectual and aesthetic mastery of his medium than for the immediacy of his work’s insights and interpretations. Contemporary artists cannot assume a safe aesthetic distance from the ruins of the present, or, if they do, they risk becoming exploitative.
How might the ruins of today, still fresh with human suffering, be misused by artists? The main way is using them for making money. This is a tough one, because artists live by the sale of their works. Even if a work of art addressing ruins is self-commissioned and donated, some money still comes as a result of publicity, book sales, lectures, teaching offers and the like. Authors of such works are morally tainted from the start. All they can do is admit that fact and hope that the damage they do is outweighed by some good. It is a very tricky position to occupy, and I would imagine that no artists today could or should make a career out of ruins and the human tragedies to which they testify.
Adorno stated that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz. His argument rested on the fact that the Holocaust could not be dealt with by the formal means of poetry, owing to poetry’s limits in dealing with extremes of reality. Judging by the dearth of poetry about the Holocaust, we are inclined to believe he was right. Looking at a similar dearth of painting, sculpture and architecture that engage more contemporary holocausts, we are inclined to extend his judgement into the present. Still, if we concede the impotence of plastic art in interpreting horrific events so close to the core of modern existence, we in effect say goodbye to them as vital instruments of human understanding. If we concede that, because of their immediacy, film and theater have been more effective, then we consign them to the limits of their own traditions. And so, we must ask, how have the arts dealt with the ruins of Sarajevo and Srebrenica, of Rwanda and Beirut and Iraq, of the Twin Towers’ site? How will they deal with the new ruins to come? Time itself has collapsed. The need is urgent. Can art help us here in the white heat of human struggle for the human, or must we surrender our hope for comprehension to the political and commercial interests that have never trusted art?
Today’s ruins challenge artists to redefine both their roles and their arts. People need works of art to mediate between themselves and the often incomprehensible conditions they live with, especially those resulting from catastrophic human violence. While not all works of art are universal, they share a universal quality, namely, the need to be perceived as the authentic expression of the artists’ experience. Without the perception of authenticity and the trust it inspires, art becomes rhetorical, commercial, and, by omission, destructive. What are the authentic forms of interpreting ruins—the death of the human, indeed, ultimately, of everything— today?
Pamphlet Architecture 20, Seven Partly Underground Rooms and Buildings for Water, Ice, and Midgets, Mary-Ann Ray, 1997.
Parallel and Perpendicular to Parallel Walls, Field of Space with Everywhere Place, Network of Paths (Rhizomatic Labyrinth), Inverted Underground Grove…