Dec 18, 2011

Exhibition: 'Wiel Arets: A Wonderful World'

Role: Production
Graphic design: Mainstudio
Venue: Locus Solus Art Space, Antwerp, Belgium
December 10, 2011–January 21, 2012

'We are living in a time where technology is invisible and no one seems to be in control. To help us understand this world, we need to redefine the map of the world; a mental construct reinterpreted countless times since 1492. We could read the world anno 2020 as a collective living space for everyone, with individual cities functioning as neighbourhoods, each with their own regional identity. These cities will be comparable to stops on a subway map, and the new commute will differ drastically from that of today. In just a few years, we’ll be able to fly to any city in only a few hours. And in this way, the world becomes our new metropolis.' 

Jul 28, 2011

'Visualising the Future: New York City Meets Amsterdam'
Publisher: Stichting ArchiNed, Amsterdam
ISSN: 1574-8065

To have a glimpse is to have a peek. In the case of the exhibition ‘Glimpses 2040: New York/ Amsterdam’ currently on display at ARCAM in Amsterdam and simultaneously in the AIA Centre for Architecture in New York City, a glimpse is well defined as a vision for the future. According to the exhibition organizers, both cities are increasingly facing a myriad of conflicts: shortage of housing, a lack of public green space, outdated infrastructure, polluted air and troublesome food production. The need to plan for these long-term conflicts constitute the exhibition’s five simple but powerful themes: DWELLING, BREATHING, MOVING, MAKING and EATING. Brought in to brainstorm solutions for these urban struggles are locals: five young architecture and landscape firms from Amsterdam and New York City. Each has investigated one theme as it relates to their city, transforming their assessment into a final vision–a glimpse–of what the future of two of the world’s capital cities may look like.

At the exhibition’s entrance, maps of New York and Amsterdam show the location of each proposal. The exhibition’s problem-solving nature is counterbalanced by a straightforward presentation: each theme is explored through the use of two side-by-side and oversized renderings (some digital, others by hand), the easier to compare their forward looking thoughts. Each proposal is accompanied by a small text that explains the concept with words, often times with the help of diagrams, maps and in some case, more words. Framed and displayed in such a way as to resemble oversized works of art, each glimpse varies from the next; reassuring the assumption that creative freedom was given to participants. However, since so much of the exhibition’s emphasis is centred on the visual, often times the ideas of each glimpse are not easily deduced, and sometimes easily confused with the utopian images of avant-garde groups from the past.

In this respect, Interboro’s glimpse towards DWELLING in Newark–technically located in New Jersey–seems to be the most successful in its attempt to communicate its glimpse, by using a colourful mixture of words and sketches of familiar city settings (bridges, street corners) and the life that takes place within them. Quotes by the usual suspects, like Saskia Sassen and Jane Jacobs, ground the glimpse in the real world. Space&Matter's proposal for Amsterdam also combines words with city visuals, to produce a glimpse of 2040 that recognizes the increasing need to feel connected to likeminded individuals.

At the heart of New York City and Amsterdam is water. Both cities were founded as maritime trading outposts and both have since grown to become world cultural capitals. Both glimpses for the theme BREATHING (New York City's by W Architecture, and Amsterdam's by the offices of Delva and Dingeman Deijs) make extensive and surprisingly similar use of their city's waterfronts. Both glimpses use dredged earth to create artificial islands in their surrounding waters, accessible to city residents for recreation and available to animals and plants to refuge, take root and help purify polluted city air. But it's Amsterdam's glimpse that goes one step further by proposing to utilize energy from the various water depths within the IJ, and later employ it for the purpose of heating and cooling the city's buildings. It's ideas like these that, while simple to produce visually, might take some time to materialize.

In addition to the five themes on display, hidden layers of meaning begin to expose themselves after a careful study of the exhibition, threading the themes together in ways that at first escape the eye. Collectivity, communication and cooperation seem to be the three underlying concepts that the designers think humans will deploy to direct the future of New York City and Amsterdam. Urban farming, connecting various modes of transportation, clean industry and multiculturalism–all the ideas currently hailed as being towards a more sustainable environment are to be found in the exhibition. And even though many of the ideas and concepts the exhibition's themes explore have been seen before, rarely have they simultaneously been applied to such prominent cities, assembled and then placed on public view.

The future is impossible to predict, especially in the case of cities, where infinite factors direct urban and social progress. But the progressive nature of the exhibit will receive a warm welcome from those looking for a break from the archetypal architectural exhibition that just highlights one designer's work; others might be let down by the straightforward nature of the information on display, especially with the exhibition’s title promising so much. This is an exhibition of ideas meant to provoke, for the sole purpose of generating further thought. What the exhibition doesn’t do is offer a general plan to combat the problems. But then again, why should it? The beautiful and larger than life glimpses into 2040, each a work of art, are reason enough to take a peek into the future.

May 1, 2011

'Pedro Gadanho', MARK #31, Apr/May 2011

Mark Magazine
Publisher: Frame PublishersAmsterdam
ISSN: 1574-6453

‘A trip down the rabbit hole’ is one way to describe Pedro Gadanho's GMG House, sited just north of Lisbon in the city of Torres Vedras. This private residence packs more pop-culture references within its walls than first meet the eye, including nods to Claes Oldenburg, Damien Hirst and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The renovation of the 19th-century structure includes a number of habitable interventions, best exemplified by an oversized ‘pill’–a bathroom extension–that echoes both Oldenburg’s enlarged objects and Hirst’s capsules, while mirroring Alice's sometimes-shrunken, sometimes-expanded journey through the strange universe depicted in Carroll's classic novel of 1865.

‘I think it’s important to have cultural references in the home that come from outside the world of architecture,’ says Gadanho, adding that such references lend a sense of significance to the dwelling ‘that escapes the confined discourse of architecture’. Here in Torres Vedras, he’s made a multipurpose mix of the ground floor. The first floor combines living room, library, kitchen, bathroom extension, patio and pool. The second accommodates a bedroom, a bath and a studio, which are linked and framed by a seemingly endless hallway lined in sliding doors, distantly recalling the enfilades of French chateaux erected centuries ago.

‘I prefer to see architecture as pleasure–sensual or intellectual–rather than as an imposed constraint,’ says Gadanho. The realization of this preference is often a strange universe of historical, fictional and narrative connections. Only in this way, he says, can ‘architecture fulfill its cultural role and trigger ideas, recollections or even playful daydreaming’. Daydreaming, as Alice would do.

Pedro Gadanho

'Benoy', MARK #31, Aprl/May 2011

Mark Magazine
Publisher: Frame PublishersAmsterdam
ISSN: 1574-6453

Abu Dhabi, the UAE's second largest city, constantly attempts to outshine the building spree of the country's more famous capital, this time with Benoy's Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, a humongous, 1.4-km-wide amusement park occupying yet another of the country’s artificial islands, each of which houses private collections of architecturally immaculate conceptions. Many continue to gape at Abu Dhabi and Dubai in amazement, as the cities dream up and realize one impressive feat of architectural engineering after another. Highlighting the most recent of these dreams, Ferrari World–‘the world’s largest indoor theme park’–is (as we go to press) the world's fastest roller coaster. Integrated into the surroundings of the complex are the Yas Marina Circuit, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix; the Yas Hotel, the breathtaking work of New York-based Asympote; and the yet-to-be-built Warner Brothers Movie World.

In terms of engineering and scale, the most impressive element of Ferrari World is its sculptural roof, a structure composed of over 200,000 m2 of coloured panels in the company's iconic red. A central ‘eye’, or funnel, made of roughly 10,000 m2 of glass–much of it screen-printed–draws enough natural light into the complex to illuminate the entire park during the day, while helping to keep the indoor space a uniformly comfortable 25ÂșC. The recent grand opening of Ferrari World recalled the fanfare that accompanied the opening of Coop Himmelb(l)au's BMW World in 2007. But bringing the Ferrari brand to life in this remarkable way surely surpasses anything BMW World has to offer, if only through the venue’s enormity, simplicity and pervasive sense of Arabian intrigue. Rather than scoring with the speed and sportiness of Ferrari's designs, Benoy makes mouths drop in disbelief through sheer size.