Author: Marianna Wahlsten

Bijoy Jain, Studio Mumbai, 'The breath of an architect', Fondation Cartier, Paris

Bijoy Jain, the power of materials

‘The breath of an architect’, Fondation Cartier, Paris, 9.12.2023-21.4.2024. 

As founder of Studio Mumbai, Indian architect Bijoy Jain works with his team at the intersection of art, craft, architecture and design. His artisan-like method is well-known to be a slow working process, challenging the demands of technological production, where robotics and AI have been adopted for increased efficiency. Bijoy Jain collaborates with local craftsmen, exploring the potential and true spirit embedded in different materials. The exhibition at Fondation Cartier in Paris aims to show the interconnections between art and philosophy underpinning the Studio Mubai practice. 

Chris Dercon, the new director of Fondation Cartier, links Bijoy Jain’s production to a trajectory of Indian design and architecture that was inspired by Charles and Ray Eames’ The India Report. The Eameses were invited by the Indian government in 1958 to find out how to strengthen the country’s craft-based traditions and small-scale industries. The report led to the establishment of the National Institute of Design (NID), which Dercon sees as a turning point.

Studio Mumbai, Bijoy Jain, Fondation Cartier, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten
Seats carved from stone inside the large structure made of bamboo strips tied together with string at Fondation Cartier, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten

Bijoy Jain has received many awards, for example the Alvar Aalto Medal in 2020. His interest towards traditional craftsmanship is expressed through a simplicity and fragility in the handling of materials showcased in the exhibition space designed by Jean Nouvel. Completed in 1991 the Fondation Cartier is one of Paris’ best-known contemporary art exhibition spaces. It is filled with objects in total contrats to the High-Tech style of the building. Sculptures carved in stone are shaped into benches and chairs, while bamboo woven structures are knotted together with twine to form a whole. The lightweight seats, made of silk thread wound around the wood, contain a structural poetry, as does the large abstract geometric pattern inscribed with red pigment on limestone, representing the flow of water. 

The idea of ‘breath’ in this exhibition’s theme could be understood as in Monism, as the metaphysical dimension that unites mind and matter as one essence. For Bijoy Jain this idea conveys a sense of hope, despite the current state of the world. Although Jain’s architectural studies and early career took place in the United States, his work is strongly informed by Asian spiritual experience and a mystical connection with nature, where water, air and light are seen as the elements of architecture.

Studio Mumbai, Bijoy Jain, Fondation Cartier, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten
Delicate seating made of string carefully bound over wooden frames, stone carvings and a large geometric pattern on limestone at Fondation Cartier, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten

As a building, Jean Nouvel’s gallery concept has links with Mies van der Rohe’s Neues Nationagalerie in Berlin. In both, the walls are all glass and offer no hanging space. On the other hand, the connection to the surrounding garden is an essential element and a fine example of the modernist ideal of the outdoor-indoor connection. Nouvel’s architecture is dominant and perhaps Bijoy Jain’s material sensibility cannot be fully appreciated against Nouvel’s heavy steel structures. This, of course, results from different choices in the presentation, curation and design of the exhibition. And while Studio Mumbai’s artworks are in a fascinating way, the antithesis of Nouvel’s architectural language, on some level the tension between the two does not result in a synthesis. As a spatial experience, the massive steel columns somehow obstruckt the link to Studio Mumbai’s subtle production, which remains a bit flat.

Studio Mumbai, Bijoy Jain, Fondation Cartier, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten
Recycled brick structure at Fondation Cartier, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten

At the initiative of chief curator Hervé Chandès, the exhibition also includes works by artists Hu Liu and Alev Ebüzziya Siesbye, who share Bijoy Jain’s interest in the spiritual dimension of materials. However, as the display contains very little explanation of the origins or purposes of Jain’s production, these other works seem to diminish the strength of the exhibition. Perhaps Studio Mumbai’s works should have been given more room to ‘breathe’, in order to show their conceptual links?

Studio Mumbai, Bijoy Jain, Fondation Cartier, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten
Large spatial experiment of a frame structure in the dimly lit downstairs gallery, Fondation Cartier, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten

Studio Mumbai’s architecture has also attracted some criticism, because their artisanal approach resulting in sought-after and expensive design objects could be seen as elitist in the context of India’s housing crisis. Indeed, a sense of ‘conscious luxury’ characterises Studio Mumbai’s work, but on the other hand, their design approach should be understood as an example that elevates the value of craftsmanship. Rather than direct action, Bijoy Jain’s work conveys spiritual convictions such as honesty in the use of materials, which is inspiring in itself, and an interest in the existential forms of one’s own country. This is well illustrated in the documentary ‘The Sense of Tuning’ filmed for the exhibition by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine. 

 

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Serpentine Pavilion 2023 by Lina Ghotmeh, photo: ©Nikhilesh Haval

Serpentine Pavilion by Lina Ghotmet – in panoramic 360 views

This year the Serpentine Summer Pavilion is a wooden structure, inspired by Mediterranean and African architecture. Designed by Paris-based architect Lina Ghotmeh the building is featured here in 360 panoramic views. Ghotmeh envisioned the space as a meeting point around a large circular table in the heart of London in the historic setting in Kensington Gardens.

Serpentine Pavilion 2023, architect Lina Ghotmeh, photo Danica O. Kus
Architect Lina Ghotmeh in front of the 2023 Pavilion, photo Danica O. Kus

Panoramic tour by Nikhilesh Haval

Text: Marianna Wahlsten

 

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The future according to Norman Foster, a retrospective at Centre Pompidou

Exhibition open until 7th of August –

Marianna Wahlsten – 

While planning the exhibition, chief curator Frédéric Migayrou worked very closely with Norman Foster, who was ultimately in charge of the over-arching concept. His meticulous attention to detail shows throughout. It’s the first ever show on the top floor galleries of the Pompidou Centre dedicated to architecture, which brings a special kind of aura to the contents on display. Exploring the most important projects and sources of inspiration, it’s a showcase for key ideas behind the Pritzker-prize-winning architect’s creative process.

Although Foster does not entirely approve of the concept ‘High Tech’ architecture in relation to his own approach, he is recognised as the leading architect of that movement. In the press conference I asked what is it that he disliked about the High Tech definition, and he explained that he mainly objects the stylistic association with glass and steel, and clearly wants to bring attention beyond that to other aspects in his large and hugely influential body of work. However, the formal language behind the buildings designed by Foster + Partners is a culmination of ideas and approaches that have been enabled by technological innovation, and the fascination towards the technological reality of objects. In Foster’s designs key principles of Modernism have been appropriated and translated in response to contemporary scientific developments and material innovations.

Chief curator Frédéric Migayrou and Norman Foster at press conference at Centre Pompidou, where the 88 years old architect was questioned about the ecological impact of his urban strategy. ©Marianna Walsten

If architecture exhibitions can sometimes seem dry and boring (as Jacques Herzog has famously commented), in this one the abundance of material and different juxtapositions of objects is enlightening.  Entering the first gallery we are immediately confronted with what lies at the heart of Foster’s creative method: drawing and sketching. The walls are covered by material retrieved from his enormous archive, showing a development in Foster’s research process spanning six decades. In the middle there is a long vitrine, containing over 200 spreads from his A-4 sketchbooks. Starting from 1975, observations and thoughts are recorded in these books, of which there are over 2000, according to Migayrou. The continuity of this material is impressive.

In the next gallery projects are represented through framed drawings and renderings, videos and architecture models, as well carefully constructed 3-D dioramas, which are rarely seen in architecture exhibitions. They certainly clarify meanings, adding a level of information to explain some of the formal connections for the general public. Some of the architecture models have been created especially for this exhibition. Through their scale and detailing, the development of Foster’s formal language can be observed and studied. 

 

A project from the 1970s of machine-like pavilions, designed to be set in a forest without disturbing the landscape, as explained through the diorama and sketches

Objects by artists and architects, who have inspired Foster over the years are scattered in the middle of the gallery amongs his own architectural works. Some of them are from Foster’s private collection, like the restored vintage automobile owned by Le Corbusier. Richard Buckmister Fuller’s Dymaxion car, and a stripped metal body of a Mercedez-Benz 300 SL model, are reminders of Foster’s obsession with dynamic technical systems and structures. Artworks by Umberto Boccioni, Constantin Brancusi and Ai Weiwei illustrate formal inspirations.

 

From Foster’s private collection, the vintage automobile, that once belonged to Le Corbusier, carefully restored, next to the Dymaxion car by Buckminster Fuller

There are seven main themes in the exhibition. The overarching idea is Foster’s belief that the climate crisis can be resolved through technological research. ‘Vertical Cities’ is one of the themes and a guiding idea of Foster’s urban strategy, where the high-rise building is seen as ‘one the best inventions of the modern era’. It’s an idea in line with Modernist principles, and which Foster believes is also the most ecological solution in dense urban environments. He believes that each crisis will generate new urban forms and thus make the city more resilient. “I’m not complacent. I share the concern about rising sea levels and global warming. We are pursuing strategies for renewable energy, and huge strides have been made”, Foster argues.

Foster’s ideological models are founded on, and still underpinned, by 1960’s optimism, the ‘big acceleration’ of technological revolution. As a young architect in the United States Foster worked on experimental projetcs at Buckminster Fuller’s office, which shaped the recent graduate’s thinking, as well as the Californian Case Study houses program, designed out of simple, inexpensive elements. Other influential figures in Foster’s early years were Louis Kahn, Christopher Alexander, and his teachers from Yale Paul Rudoplh and Serge Chermayeff.

As a culmination of Foster’s futuristic aspirations, the exhibition introduces some of the projects developed in collaboration with NASA, in which architecture moves to outer space. Designs for stations on the Moon and on Mars are part of an architectural strategy, demonstrating how Foster + Partners continues to look forward, always motivated by expanding what is possible technologically. In order to find ecological solutions, the starchitect strongly believes that technology will eventually save the planet.

Centre Pompidou

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Adaptive reuse – the TWA terminal

There are different reasons why airport terminals become obsolete. One of the main problems in some of the 1960s designs, was their lack of flexibility. And some were just too close to the city centre, like the historic Tempelhof airport in Berlin, which is now a multifunctional exhibition space. The iconic TWA terminal by Eero Saarinen was given the status of an architectural landmark on national Register of Historic Places in New York State, while still in use in 1994. Its souring volumes have now been restored to their former glory, housing an airport hotel in exceptional circumstances.

TWA Hotel, Eero saarinen, photo ©Danica Kus
Moulded concrete, no straight lines, photo ©Danica Kus

Designed as part of the JFK Airport in New York, the TWA terminal is the most famous building by Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen (1910 – 1961). Commissioned by the business magnate and film producer Howard Hughes, who was then the owner of the Trans World Airways company, the terminal was completed in 1962. It was an instantly recognisable architectural concept, which represented the excitement and glamour of air travel before the onset of mass tourism.

TWA Hotel, by Eero Saarinenphoto ©Danica Kus
Terminal under curved concrete shells, photo ©Danica Kus
In the development of modernist architecture, the terminal marks the stylistic turn, where large undulating forms designed out of reinforced concrete were built on such a scale. The terminal building has now been restored and given a new life as the TWA hotel, where the nostalgic mid-modernist aesthetic has been preserved, complete with classic pieces of furniture by Saarinen for Knoll. It is a relic of a bygone era of aviation, and a monument of 1960s concrete architecture, an alternative approach to rough brutalism. You can see those smooth, futuristic forms as inspiration to later terminal buildings, such as Paul Andreu’s designs in Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. 

 

TWA Hotel, Eero Saarinen, photo ©Danica Kus
Long and narrow skylights between the curved concrete shells, photo ©Danica Kus

In Saarinen’s short career he was commissioned to design three airport terminals. The distinctive form of the TWA terminal gained the most attention and became an icon of the golden age of aviation, while also receiving criticism already at the time. Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner preferrred the more sober and linear structure of the Dulles Airport in Washington, which remains in use in its original form. In Athens the main airport was moved further away from the city centre, but the terminal building by Saarinen has been preserved. Saarinen passed away in 1961 and never saw the finished terminals.

His father Eliel Saarinen was one of the leading architects at the height of National Romanticism in Finland, a movement influenced by motifs found in nature. The family emigrated to America when Eero Saarinen was thirteen. He graduated from Yale, and worked first in his father’s office. In the TWA design, as well as in his iconic furniture designs, such as the Tulip chair, we can see an abstracted and sculptural relation to natural forms, reinterpreted as a result of material and technological innovation.

Saarinen had been part of the jury in the architectural competition for the Sydney Opera House, which also informed Saarinen’s approach while designing the TWA terminal. Behind the bold architectural language of these two buildings there was a complex system of structural engineering, breaking away from the modernist principles of straight lines and plain functionality. Both buildings mark the early phase of an era when computers came to be part of the design process.

 

TWA Hotel, Eero Saarinen, photo ©Danica Kus
Souring floor-to-ceiling glass walls, furniture by Eero Saarinen, photo ©Danica Kus

 While modernist architectural space was often defined through rigid geometries, in the terminal design Saarinen introduced organic relationships and a flow of connections throughout the building. Saarinen was able to use calculations made by computers in order to realize such formal continuity. The spatial organisation inside the free-form envelop made of concrete shells was the outcome of Saarinen’s artistic vision and innovative methods. Hughes as the client – a leading player in Hollywood film industry – surely had a strong influence on the development of such a strong architectural narrative and expression.

TWA Hotel, Eero Saarinen, photo ©Danica Kus
Classic pieces by Eero Saarinen: Tulip chair and table, behind the sunken red bar area, photo ©Danica Kus

 Today spatial flexibility is a leading principle in airport design, so that terminals can respond to changing requirements. For the TWA terminal Saarinen had delivered an architectural concept, which could not be adapted with the rapid change in aviation and and the wider aircraft sizes of the jet age. In comparison to Dulles airport, the TWA terminal’s structure was not flexible and hence became obsolete at the end of last century. Although an icon of 1960s architecture, the TWA terminal shows the difficulties inherent in the most sculptural forms of architecture.

TWA Hotel, Eero Saarinen, photo ©Danica Kus
Hotel rooms furnished with 60s pieces by Eero Saarinen, photo ©Danica Kus

The  terminal was closed in 2001, and remained empty for sixteen years. In 2015 a privately funded redevelopment started to convert the terminal into a hotel. In the category of airport hotels, it’s a rare example: a unique aesthetic experience imbued with cultural history. There are 512 guest rooms with floor-to-ceiling  windows, made with thick glass blocking all the aircraft noise. 

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Alvar Aalto Home photo: ©Nikhilesh Haval

A programme to celebrate Aalto

This year marks the 125th anniversary of Alvar Aalto’s birth. A series of events will take place to celebrate his legacy. To know the intimate side of Aalto, explore his home in Helsinki on this virtual tour.

Functional, simple, and comfortable – it’s one of the iconic homes of 20th century. Designed by Alvar and Aino Aalto and completed in 1936, this house in the Munkkiniemi district in Helsinki, Finland, exemplifies the changing standards of 20th century modern living.

As an example of early 20th century Scandinavian design and architecture, it’s difficult to find a more complete and well preserved site. The house remained a family residence until 1998 and most of the original features and objects there are intact. Now it’s maintained by the Alvar Aalto Foundation, and open to the public as a museum.

Within the development of modernist architecture and design, Alvar Aalto’s approach is known for an intuitive ability to play with spatial dynamics, light and materiality. The house also contains a studio space, where the architectural office was based until the mid-fifties. It represents the modernist ideal, where functionality has been achieved without the loss for comfort. The free design of the plan and the facade, as well as the unhidden structural elements around the house, exemplify key modernist principles, interpreted for this Nordic context.

Through experiments with bent wood Alvar Aalto created different models of chairs and tables. The home is furnished with designs, which represent a modernist sensibility influenced by natural forms and phenomena.  Many of these pieces are still in production by Artek, the company founded in 1935, where Aino Aalto was an influential director.

A timeless appeal lies in the simplicity of the Aalto home. The enduring modernist aesthetic and the materials that reference nature are part of a strong cultural heritage, which still informs Finnish contemporary architecture. Elements and formal solutions of this building are reinterpreted in today’s architecture and many of Aalto’s design objects can be found in homes and public buildings all over the world.

Click here for the program of events

Photos and virtual tour: Nikhilesh Haval, Nikreations

Text: Marianna Wahlsten

 

 

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Black Chapel, designed by Theaster Gates, photo © Iwan Baan

A play with circles at Serpentine Summer Pavilion by Theaster Gates

Black Chapel is a dark cylindrical pavilion designed by artist Theaster Gates for the Serpentine Gallery in London.  In dialogue with iconic sacred architecture, this year’s Summer Pavilion is the largest volume to date in this programme for exhibiting temporary architecture. It’s 10 meters high with an open oculus on top, which creates a play with passing time and weather conditions inside the space.

The oculus and the circular volume recall the Pantheon in Rome, but here as a contemporary interpretation, stripped of all ornamentation and classical references. Besides sacred historic architecture, Gates plays with ideas from industrial buildigs, such as kilns for clay-making, and also mentions the Rothko Chapel as inspiration. In the press release Gates stated that: “It is my hope that Black Chapel will achieve the honorific, interrogate the sacred and encourage the social.”  

Accentuated by the circular form and the dark interior, with entry and exit points to the east and west, there is a sense of mysterious togetherness in this formal conception. A path leads through the quiet volume, making you aware of physical presence and others sharing the space in a solemn and sensuous way. The structural simplicity of the construction does not call attention to itself like some of the earlier pavilion designs. The ones by  Daniel Liebeskind (2001), Toyo Ito (2002), or Oscar Niemeyer 2003) were famous for their sculptural formal experiments.

In recent years the pavilion has been more focused on materiality, and as a temporary structure, with increasing attention to sustainability in the materials used.  This year the pavilion is constructed with structural timber clad in modular plywood panels, which can be easily demounted. It’s a lightweight structure – with wall thickness of just 9 mm – designed to be reinstalled elsewhere eventually. The precast concrete foundations are also designed to be removed and reused.

Black Chapel by Theaster Gates, Serpentine Summer Pavilion 2022, photo Marianna Wahlsten
Daylight falling from above, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten

Chicago-based Theaster Gates worked in partnership with Adjaye Associates, the architectural studio founded by David Adjaye. Although several artists have previously collaborated in the Serpentine Summer Pavilion design, the Black Chapel is the first one credited primarily to an artist.  In the same way as Olafur Eliasson (2007 pavilion with Kjetil Thorsen) and Ai Weiwei (2017 pavilion with Herzog & de Meuron) Theaster Gates is known for his crossdisciplinary artistic approach. Urban projects to reinvigorate abandoned spaces are part of his practice. He is the founder of Rebuild Foundation, a non-profit platform in Chicago for strengthening communities through arts programs. 

A lightweight timber and steel structure around the open oculus, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten

As an architectural showcase the Summer Pavilion allows for creative experimentation, and strong personal expression, beyond the reach of traditional architecture exhibitions. The location in the very heart of London, in the crossroads of Kensington Gardens, makes it accessible to a wide range of audiences, also for unexpected chance encounters for people passing through the park. As a showcase for architectural design, the Summer Pavilion always brings a new, contemporary dynamic to the Royal Parks. 

Attention to the ground works surrounding the pavilion on this historic site is always immaculate, enabled by financial support from Golden Sachs, Thermes and LUMA Foundation. Technical expertise was provided this year from Aecom, an engineering firm where the team focused on small details of the cylindrical structure and minimizing materials used. Ethical sourcing of materials was supported by Grace Farms Foundation.

Salvaged church bell on the lawn, as an aural architectural element, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten

It’s always fascinating to follow the different narrative forms and ideas that have been seen in the Summer Pavilion designs over the past two decades. Gates’s circular form could be seen in correspondence with Koolhaas’ (2006) and Kéré’s (2018) pavilions, as well as the rectangular simplicity of Zumthor’s (2011). The name Black Chapel is a continuation with Gates’ project for the Haus der Kunst in Munich, perhaps as an homage to the late curator Okwui Enwezor, while also reminding of David Adjaye’s previous residential projects.

Open every day until October 16th, the pavilion is a space for quiet contemplation, as well as a special venue for hosting cultural events over the summer. The black-stained timber seems to absorb sound onto its matt surface and a sense of mysticism lies inside the pavilion. The height and the cylindrical volume enhance the acoustic properties of the timber structure, which will no doubt make the pavilion a great spot for all the musical performances and events that will take place over the summer. There will be a wide range of styles, from minimalist, experimental piano music, to contemporary jazz and The Choir of London Oratory performance, to look forward to.  

 Seven abstract paintings by Gates are displayed inside. It’s the first time that the Summer Pavilion concept includes artworks. Although Serpentine Gallery is an institution for contemporary art, until this year, the pavilion itself has been a purely architectural commission. 

Serpentine Pavilion 2022, 10 June – 16 October 2022

www.serpentinegalleries.org

 

The mysteriously dark cafe enclosure …, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten
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