CiA recommend the Vilhelm Hammershøi exhibition at the Royal Academy, London. Hammershøi’s cool interiors and distinctive grey-themed palette have attracted considerable attention for their restrained elegance and quiet power. The calm surroundings of the Sackler Galleries are particularly suitable for this collection of intimate and obsessive examinations of interior spaces.
This month’s issue of AD Magazine, Interior Atmospheres, contains an article by CiA staffer Sally Stone with her regular co-author Graeme Brooker. The piece, entitled “Off the Peg: The Bespoke Interiors of Ben Kelly” was based upon an interview with the designer and discusses the qualities of the interiors that he creates.
In response to our opening discussion about the general perception of interiors practice and education, Kelly introduces himself as ‘an old fashioned interior designer’. He describes the subject as something that has integrity far beyond just surface consideration and he regards it as something that is ‘very close to architecture, but its not architecture’, that actually has little to do with surface treatment, but has its basis in the manipulation and control of space. He explains that the starting point for any project is in the analysis and understanding of the unique qualities of the existing space, and suggests that there is a resonating element that springs from the original building that is crucial for the development of the project. This interpretive attitude can be traced back to the work of the well known interior architect, Carlo Scarpa, although of course with vastly different visual results.
‘When I get the plan then this is when the project begins. We sit around the table and discuss what it’s telling us, what’s possible, what can we keep and what has to go,’ says Kelly. The site-specific qualities of the existing building that can be teased out and repossessed in the transformation of a space are one of the major sources of atmosphere in his work. It is from these readings that the process of organisation and assembly can begin. Kelly could be accused of not really doing very much; the basic spaces are relatively unaltered, many of the finishes are pre-existing and the new bits are very much the same as the old. He makes it look too easy. But that is exactly the point – he liberates the existing, not just in the way the space is exposed and manipulated, but also, and most importantly, the manner in which the new elements, insertions and materials echo the existing qualities.
Pictures: (Top) Ben Kelly in his studio, photo by Graeme Brooker; (Bottom) article page featuring The Hacienda, Manchester (now destroyed).
This triple height chapel has been carved from the lower floors of a banal office block on Peter Street in Manchester. The large room or volume is surrounded by circulation space, through which shines natural light. The long light from the west shines directly into the chapel in the evening. At ground floor level, at the front of the building, the designers have manipulated the barely double height space to accommodate a reception and bookshop with a tiny reading room.
OMI Architects, Manchester 1998
St Paul’s Church and Community Centre, London England, Matthew Lloyd Architects, 2004
The church at Bow is a collection of assorted elements gathered together in one building. It is modestly gothic (1878) with a cylindrical three-storey bell tower, very large pointed windows and clerestory lights, and an open nave. The ceiling over the chancel is highly decorated, the gold ribs run into the cast-iron columns, which are positioned centrally in front of pilasters between the windows within the white painted walls. It appears that the brick walls of the nave were once also painted white, but these have been allowed to peel and fade. The pews are placed around the raised altar and the organ is positioned against a blocked-up arch.
Into this mixture Matthew Lloyd Architects have inserted a two-storey steel and timber structure. It is raised high into the vaulted ceiling of the church to leave the chancel and the nave free for worship. The front of this bold curved wooden structure is supported by four enormous white painted Y-shaped steel columns, which just stand among the pews. The rear is connected to a white rectangular box of a quite different nature, and contained within this is the meeting room and stairs to the gallery, gym, and community rooms at first and second levels. The building has been split three-dimensionally into two L-shaped sections. The church occupies the L at the front and ground level and the community use the L at the top and back of the building. The language of the new is quite different to that of the old, but then, each area is an assemblage of different styles, components and functions, the solution of which seems to work.
Photo by G.J. Brooker
On a recent visit to Venice, Continuity in Architecture noted the changes that have been made to Carlo Scarpa’s masterly interpretation of the Venetian Palazzo, the Querini Stampalia Foundation. These changes are apparent even before entering the building, Scarpa’s delicate bridge is no longer in use as the entrance, and instead the visitor accesses the building from around the corner. This does seem to destroy the careful sequence of entrance spaces, although this was difficult to ascertain as the meticulous foyer rooms with their moats are now exhibition spaces. When CIA visited, they were blacked out to contain a geometric installation of tiny lights. The recital room was lined with transparent plastic, another installation rather than a protective device we hope. But the elegant courtyard garden, containing the moving water, appeared intact.
CiA staffer Sally Stone and her co-author Graeme Brooker have just returned from the “Re-habituation of Interior Space” conference, which was held at the Università IUAV di Venezia in Italy. The theme of the conference was the remodelling and re-use of existing buildings and the design of interior space. This international conference attracted papers from as far away as Sydney, and Stone and Brooker were one of only ten speakers invited from almost ninety submissions. They found themselves sharing the platform with the distinguished Austrian architect and winner of the Heinrich Tessenow Medal, Heinz Tesar, who presented his newly completed Bode-Museum in Berlin. Also presenting were the eminent architects: Andrea Branzi, and José Ignacio Linazasoro and there was a special presentation from Umberto Riva, who showed a selection of his work from the last 50 years.
Gianni Ottolini, from the Politecnico di Milano, completed his opening address with a plea for the remodelling of existing buildings to be taken seriously as an importantant and necessary area of expertise; “…we must defend our specific competence and responsibility as formulisers and constructors of a habitational architecture that is authentic, desirable and possible, in a critical and vital relationship with the past.”
Stone and Brooker presented a paper, not without a certain amount of deliberate irony, on Spolia and the art of re-using whole and complete elements. When they suggested that, within a post-modern, post-industrial society, the traffic bollards and shipping crates re-used by the likes of Ben Kelly and LOT/EK are as viable examples of spolia as classical relics, murmurs of surprise (and disagreement) could be heard from the Venetian audience.
Further details can be found at: rehabitation of interior space
It was not all hard work and Stone and Brooker enjoyed an excellent meal, organised by the conference coordinators at the Trattoria da Ignazio on the Calle Saoneri in the San Polo district. The spaghetti with crab is highly recommended.
Conference publication: Gli interni nell progetto sull’esistente, ISBN 978-88-7115-561-6
Apparently (press release): Michal Rovner, the renowned installation artist whose show in the Israeli Pavilion was one of the highlights of the Venice Biennale in 2003, has created a new piece inspired by the grounds and the history of Chatsworth. Built entirely of ancient stones from old houses in her native Israel, Rovner’s Makom houses a ghostly video installation evoking the generations of inhabitants who resided within such constructions. As such, it is a unique monument to several thousand years of human habitation and history.
The media furore surrounding Doris Salcedo’s installation in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern has tended to remark on the originality of its gesture. Yet in its scale and pseudo-naturalness it would appear to be indebted to the generation of land artists from the 1960s. In particular it has strong similarities to Michael Heizer’s installation at the Fondazione Prada in Milan from 1996, although that work was rather more limited in size. Heizer’s work also avoided the pitfall of attempting a simulation of reality. In contrast Salcedo’s intervention seems to have attracted more attention regarding its constructional technique rather than its meaning, to the frustration of the artist.
Dr Charles Rice,, University Of Technology, Sydney
“Thinking Inside the Box: Interiors in the 21st Century – New Visions, New Horizons & New Challenges”, was held on the 1st and 2nd March at the Lighthouse Architecture Centre in Glasgow. It was organised by a collective of Scottish academics and was the first of what will hopefully be an annual event.
In an extremely intense couple of days, delegates from around the world debated the quality and character of interiors. The actual definition of the subject was discussed, the differences and similarities between interior architecture, design and decoration were deliberated upon, the influences of relevant and not so relevant historians and theoreticians were examined as well as the practical issues of education.
There were twenty-four presentations, and all were relevant and informative: Sally Stone (Manchester) and Graeme Brooker (Manchester) kicked off the event with a stirring keynote address, a discussion of the theoretical linked ideas that contextualism and installation art have with interior architecture. The other keynote speaker, Shashi Caan (Shashi Caan Collective, New York), discussed the importance of “place” rather than just “space” within the design of interiors.
Susie Attiwill (Melbourne) discussed the findings of the forum held in Melbourne late last year, the possibility or not that a significant collection or canon of interiors exists. C. Thomas Mitchell (Indiana) and Gennaro Postiglione (Milan) discussed the identity crisis (or not) within the subject and Andrew Stone (London) proposed that interiors are constructed from “…a coincidence of contexts”.
Patrick Hannay (Cardiff) despaired of the way forward for the education of interior architects and Lois Weinthal (New York), Mark Taylor (Wellington), Ro Spankie (Oxford Brooks), Saltuk Ozemir (Istanbul), Teresa Hoskins (Brighton), Julia Dwyer (Brighton) and José Bernardi (Arizona) presented papers based upon educational projects. Still on academic issues, Lynn Chalmers and Susan Close (both Manitober), Charles Rice (Sydney) and Luis Diaz (Brighton) discussed the problems of defining a theoretical basis for the subject.
There were a number of idiosyncratic and particular presentations, among them Gini Lee (Adelaide) talked poetically of the emergence of the “unreliable museum”. John Brown (Calgary) in a very charismatic presentation, described the advent of the “slow home” a reaction to the huge sprawling housing developments that are being constructed, just as slow food is a response to fast food. George Verghese (Sydney) pleaded for more consideration to be given to materials arguing that “…the handling of materials creates a sense of place”. Lorraine Farrally (Portsmouth) described techniques that allow a translation of physical activity into the mapping space. Tara Roscoe (New York) discussed the relationship between cyber and physical space; and how the use of the theoretical ideas that underpin our notions of the security and sacrilege of the home, are being used to destroy or defile houses within extreme environments was very movingly examined by Terry Meade (Brighton).
The symposium was, as the organisers hoped, both stimulating and challenging. We are looking forward to next summer’s event in Edinburgh.
Our friends at ARCA have kindly forwarded this article from the New York Times about Secret or Hidden Rooms. The piece brings to mind the Priest Hole, a term given to hiding places built into many of the principal Catholic houses of England during the period when Roman Catholics were persecuted in England.
As John Lee at ARCA asks: “Where would you put yours?”
Interior Architecture, Design and Decoration is a growing intellectual discipline, as the subject has become more accessible and highly visible so it has become more respectable and is now considered as a subject in its own right rather that an adjunct to architecture or an extension of decoration. The study of the discipline is so often dogged with issues of decorative finishes and cut MDF. Interiors are frequently regarded as the forgotten elements within a much larger theoretical discussion, as the spaces left over and produced very much as a consequence of building exterior. It has been regarded as a superficial practice that lacks a particular set of distinct design theories or principles, but there are more than 100 interior design and interior architecture courses listed on the UCAS website in Britain as well as the subject specialism in architecture. It is extraordinary that is there very little academic writing on the subject
The Interiors Forum Scotland will be debating the identity and future of Interior Design at a two-day symposium at the beginning of March 2007. Issues of theory, identity, design, and practice will be discussed at the Lighthouse Gallery in Glasgow. The event is organised by a collective group of Scottish Interior Educators. The Keynote speakers include Sally Stone, the leader of the College of Continuity in Architecture, MSA and Graeme Brooker, Course Leader Interior Design, MMU. This should prove to be an interesting conference.
OMA’s Prada store features in the following samizdat report by the hardened fashionistas of Manchester School of Architecture Year 3…