Archive for the ‘Event Reviews / Previews’ Category

Modell Bauhaus

October 13, 2009

Review of ‘Modell Bauhaus’, a major Bauhaus retrospective held in Berlin July-October 2009, published in Blueprint Magazine, October 2009:

Given the importance of the Bauhaus as a founding institution for 20th century modernism, it’s surprising that so few retrospectives have been held, and certainly nothing approaching the scale and ambition of Modell Bauhaus. The exhibition sets its sights high: a reappraisal of the Bauhaus legacy that both acknowledges and critiques the brand it has become, bringing together over 1,000 objects from the New York’s MoMA and the three major german Bauhaus collections: the Bauhaus Archive Berlin, the Bauhaus Foundation Dessau and the Weimar Classical Foundation. 

The timing is apposite; 2009 is the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, and also the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a division which kept so much of this collection apart in the post-war period.  Coincidentally, 2009 is also the 80th birthday of the New York MoMA, which became a home for many members of the Bauhaus after they fled the Third Reich, holding the first Bauhaus retrospective there in 1938.

With so much material, Modell Bauhaus could easily have been overwhelming, viewed only as an endless display of objects removed from their context.  To counter this, the curators have been keen to emphasize that the Bauhaus was not a static design office turning out branded products, but rather a continually evolving and changing project.  Its brief 14-year life saw three directors (Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer and Mies van der Rohe), and three consecutive homes (Weimar, Dessau and finally Berlin), due in part to constant attack from the reactionary right.   It was also not always harmonious.  Gropius began early on to turn away from the Bauhaus’s founding idea – a modern equivalent of a group of medieval craftsmen – towards an alliance of art with technology, disappointing many of its co-founders.  The ever-apolitical Mies utterly rejected Mayer’s communist leanings.

The eighteen rooms are chronologically arranged, with each room focusing on a different aspect of the Bauhaus’s design output and its changing nature.  The rooms also follow a gradually changing colour scheme representing each year with a different hue, the order based on Bauhaus teacher Johannes Itten’s Colour Sphere system. The design, by Berlin-based chezweitz & roseapple, is almost faultless, apart from the slightly cluttered and strangely 1970s feel of the final room, which features various examples of Mies’ tubular steel furniture,  confusingly set against rather too many mirrors and dark wooden panelling.  Occasionally, you can’t help feeling that you’re in a branch of Habitat, with tableware and lamps displayed in minimalist surroundings, although this says more about the long-term influence of the Bauhaus’s designs than any failure in the exhibition’s approach. 

There was always a tension between mass production and elitism at the Bauhaus; its slogan under Hannes Meyer was “The needs of the people, not the dictates of luxury”, and it is ironic that a strictly limited edition Mart Stam S43 chair is being produced as an exhibition tie-in. This paradox is acknowledged as part of the show with Christine Hill’s tongue-in-check contemporary installation, DIY-Bauhaus, where visitors are given advice on how to bring Bauhaus style into their homes.

The exhibition really comes alive though when it focuses less on the domestic design objects  and more on the Bauhaus’s overlapping work in advertising, sculpture, theatre and architecture reminding you what an incredible scope of activities the Bauhaus encompassed in striving for total art. Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator is placed in a translucent cube within a darkened room, with coloured lighting playing fantastical shadows over the cube’s surface from within.  Nearby, video screens play re-stagings of Bauhaus theatre and dance pieces, one of which features a robotic figure performing an early but unmistakable moonwalk.  A new model of Mies’ famously unbuilt (and equally unbuildable) glass skyscraper for Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse is a stark contrast to the rather lacklustre new building going up on the same site today. 

The term ‘Modell’ in the title is translated as ‘conceptual model’ – signifying both the Bauhaus’s intention to create model designs, but also to establish itself as a model for other institutions.  With such ambition to present a new perspective on the Bauhaus, it’s disappointing that explanatory text is so limited – generally each room has a single board of text with individual objects labelled with only name and designer.  There’s also a risk that Modell Bauhaus could imply a neatness and continuity which its curators are striving to avoid, but despite this the show is not to be missed.  Given that the last major Bauhaus retrospective was in Stuttgart in 1968, and that the forthcoming New York version will be in much reduced form, the sheer scale and completeness of Modell Bauhaus is unlikely to be repeated for many years. ‘More is more’, as Mies wouldn’t have said.


Christopher Frayling + Ken Adam

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #235, 5th March 2008

We know Ken Adam as a prolific movie set designer, most memorably for the Bond films (Moonraker — worst movie, best sets). Yet you could argue that Adam was as much an “unbuilt architect” as he was a set designer; there were great architects of the 20th century whose projects remained mainly on paper, but not so many whose projects lived entirely on screen. Like early modernist architects Erich Mendelsohn, or Hans Poelzig, he was a German Jew (born Klaus Adam) who emigrated in the early 1930s to escape fascism. The two worlds overlapped; these pioneers were no knew their set design (Poelzig for one was responsible for the expressionist sets of The Golem) and Adam actually trained as an architect at the Bartlett. A certain Norman Foster has cited him as an influence more than once (which makes a lot of sense: compare and contrast). Christopher Frayling, author of Ken Adam: The Art Of Production Design, is no stranger to interviewing our man; most recently in conjunction with a screening of Kubrick‘s classic Dr Strangelove, where the set of the war room is a virtual part of the cast. Frayling and Adam make an obvious, but excellent, choice as part of the RCA’s Double Take lecture series.

NB: Also of note is the Lacaton & Vassal lecture at the Bartlett on 12/03 (6:30pm).

Link to original item at:

Jean Prouvé

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #231, 7th February 2008

These days, the idea of an engineer who’s also an architect is almost unheard of, as the world of building things becomes ever more specialised. So Jean Prouve‘s work signifies a lost age; metalworker, engineer, inventor, architect, furniture maker. His name is little known outside architectural circles, but his influence is huge, and arguably greater than Buckminster-Fuller‘s influence on the work of the British high-tech boys — his fascination with mass-produced building systems is evident in the buildings of the young Richard Rogers. Interesting, then, that linked to the Design Museum‘s current Prouve show, one of his prefab Maison Tropicale housing prototypes has been reconstructed in front of Tate Modern. The house was designed for Brazzaville, in tropical west Africa (where it was rediscovered in 2000, in a bit of a state, apparently), so it may feel a little ill at ease in London’s chilly surroundings. Mass-production never followed (it wasn’t economically suited to its purpose) and this raises the question: is the house an unusually large museum piece, an example of Europe’s attempt to impose its approaches on its former African colonies, or a genuine archetype for 21st century cities?

NB: Maison Tropicale is on view in front of Tate Modern till 13/04. The Design Museum’s Jean Prouve retrospective also runs till 13/04.

Link to original item:

Architecture Week 2007

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #207, 6th June 2007

So much to do and see this year that it’s hard to resist the temptation to sprint from one event to the next, pausing occasionally to ponder on the nature of sustainable urban communities (green is this year’s theme). After all, only shallow, list-obsessed media types would try to suggest that you could pick out ten “must see” events from the rich spread on offer.

So here’s ours…

Frank Gehry + Sydney Pollack In Conversation
Fri 15/06 (7pm)

Not exactly underground, we admit, and a degree of mutual back slapping expected between the master of shiny-curvy and his filmic chum, but surely not to be missed?

Wind To Light (installation)
15/06 till 24/06
Commissioned by RIBA and onedotzero, light man David Bruges plans to have mini wind turbines powering hundreds of LEDs on the South Bank. On 21/06 (7pm) at RIBA catch Bruges as he and other speakers discuss the project.

Mind The Gap (tour of an Eco house under construction)
Sat 16/06 (1 – 5pm)
Our list is a bit light on the green theme so far, but this looks interesting. Especially if you’ve never witnessed the glory that is a building site, albeit an unusually narrow one.

Brave new world? The Barbican And Golden Lane Estates (tour)
Mon 18/06 (6:30 – 8pm) and Fri 22/06 (6:30 – 8pm)
If you pride yourself on your knowledge of London’s architecture, sooner or later you need the lowdown on Chamberlain, Powell & Bonn‘s Barbican, and its forerunner, the Golden Lane Estate. Now is good.

Guided Tour Of White Cube, Mason’s Yard
Tue 19/06 and Fri 22/06 (10am)

Forget art and trophyism, as in anything Damien Hirst makes is an automatic commodity, but do think of his lack of humility and of an adolescent with a God complex. Back to architecture… new minimalism and Jay Jopling‘s rather OTT penthouse office and roof garden.

The Building Futures Debate: This House Believes London is Full
Wed 20/06 (6:30pm)
Full, as in a Northern Line tube at London Bridge in rush hour. Or not full, as in Greenwich Park at dusk on a winter’s evening. More London debate, in case you couldn’t get enough.

Architecture In A World Of Climate Change
Wed 20/06 (6 – 8:30pm)
Ken Shuttleworth, Foster‘s former designer-in-chief, now head man at Make, will talk about his practice’s eco-leaning work, rather than how he designed the Gherkin. He’s not bitter.

21st Century Architecture
Wed 20/06 (6:30 – 8:30pm)
Not only a debate worth going to, but a chance to see Allies and Morrison‘s new observatory makeover.

Bartlett School of Architecture Summer Show 2007
Fri 22/06 (6 – 10:30pm), Sat 23/06 (10am – 8:30 pm), Sun 24/06 (10am – 5.30pm)…

Strictly speaking they’d be doing this anyway, but always worth going along to check out the work of budding young Alsops and Allfords.

Debate London – The Architecture Foundation Presents Five Major Debates
Fri 22/06 – Mon 25/06 (7:30 – 9pm)
A stellar line-up of highly opinionated folk, including Zaha Hadid, Zoe Williams, David Adjaye and others. Will our Ken be scandalous? Will Nigel Coates be arcane? Will Jacques Herzog be asked about his unsightly extension?

NB: Architecture Week 2007 runs from 15/06 till 24/06.

Link to original item:

Chris Wilkinson

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #179, 4th October 2006

It’s worth strolling down Floral Street once in a while, not to see the inexplicably popular standy-still-statue people, but rather to gaze skyward at a rather ingenious and beautiful footbridge by architects Wilkinson Eyre. A series of squares rotate across the void to connect two awkwardly offset openings — anything but pedestrian. In an age of architectural hyper-production, it’s tempting to make sense of things by inventing an “ism”. (Deconstructivism, anyone?) At best, the labelling of architects can favour style over substance. At worst, it’s just plain wrong. You could claim that Wilkinson Eyre’s work has its roots in high tech — true in a sense, but it doesn’t help to describe their work. Best known for some of their bridge designs, which include that most delicate of Stirlingwinning structures, Gateshead Millennium Bridge, as well as some closer to home, there’s a strong theme of poetry rather than prose. Chris Wilkinson has described himself and partner Jim Eyre as “more artists than technicians”, and as their projects become increasingly expressive, it’s easy to see what he means.

NB: Wilkinson Eyre: Architecture On The Ramp is on display at the RA till 13/11.C

Linkto original item:

Summer Nights 2006: the Europeans

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #175, 3rd August 2006

London’s been feeling decidedly Mediterranean lately — some of us have even been leaving the house without socks on. So what could be better than some truly continental culture, in the form of the Architecture Foundation‘s Summer Nights series? Each features a genuinely up-and-coming young European practice, with the bonus that one day you’ll be able to say “I remember them ages before they were famous…”.

Jakob Dunkl – Querkraft
Wed 09/08 at 7pm

Querkraft are award-winning Austrian architects who already have a considerable portfolio of realised work under their belts.

Silvia Ullmayer and Allan Sylvester – Ullmayer / Sylvester
Wed 16/08 at 7pm

London based practice (although one half is German) who’ve already made an impact with their first building.

Teresa Sapey – Teresa Sapey Architects
Wed 23/08 at 7pm

Madrid based Sapey joined architecture’s big hitters when she designed the carpark for Madrid’s starchitect-drenched Hotel Puerta America, but her “independent” work is becoming increasingly well known.

NB: for architecture flashers make sure you catch the Barbican’s Future City exhibition (runs till 17/09).

Link to original piece:

Peter Cook & Wolf D Prix

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #173, 19th July 2006

“Our concept of the design describes an approach to the explosive nucleus of the tension-charged area of complexity.” Most radical visions of future urbanity never really make it off the drawing board, but Wolf Prix is that rarity among architectural thinkers and urban theorists; a lot of his ideas get built. Working through Coop Himmelb(l)au, the practice he co-founded in 1968, Prix claims that almost nothing changes between sketch stage and final realisation. Sounds hard to believe, but there is a certain mad directness about his buildings — you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d discovered a shortcut past the world of engineers and other such distractions (making it seem that way, of course, is the clever bit). Anyway, we’re being unfair to Peter Cook here, whose ideas have inspired at least two generations of architects, and who has managed to turn his hand to the odd realised building once in a while. Hopefully an interesting clash then between the theories of (so-called) neo-constructivism and pop art.

NB: this talk has been programmed in conjunction with Future City – Experiment And Utopia In Architecture 1956-2006 (runs till 17/09).

Link to original item:

London Architecture Biennale / Architecture Week 2006

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #169, 21st June 2006

The London Architecture Biennale has collided head-on with Architecture Week this year. The Biennale is bigger and better than its predecessor in 2004 and stretches from Southwark to Clerkenwell via the Millennium Bridge. On Sunday the architectural festivities comes to an end.

With so much to see and do, it’s impossible to pick a “best of”. Below are some events that caught our eye…

Future City Experiment And Utopia In Architecture 1956 – 2006
Runs till 17/09
Archigram weren’t the only dreamers of utopia, you know. 50 years of radical architectural thinking; a short history of the future.

Alex Lifschutz: South Bank Tour
Wed 21/06 (6 – 7:30pm)

Alex Lifschutz never fails to entertain, and knows his stamping ground well — the Golden Jubilee bridges and the OXO Tower are both his. (Includes free champagne, apparently!)

Maxwell Hutchinson: Pub And Churches Crawl
Wed 21/06 (6:30pm)

The week just wouldn’t be complete without former RIBA President Maxwell Hutchinson guiding you round his favourite hostelries. And his favourite churches, of course.

The Borough Market Feast
Thu 22/06 (8 – 11:30pm)
Talking of the market… what better reason to come south of the river (unless you already live there) than a slap-up archifeast from top chef Tomasina Miers.

Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buildings And Legacy In Japan
Sun 25/06 (12 – 2pm)
Frank Lloyd Wright‘s American work is well known; his work in Japan much less so. A chance to catch the director’s cut of this new documentary, plus Q&A with the directors.

Modern Architour Bus
Sun 25/06 (1 – 5pm)
We don’t do open top bus tours do we, as they’re for tourists. All aboard for this notable exception.

World’s Biggest Pecha Kucha
Sun 25/06 (7:30pm)
A stellar cast of architectural talent hangs out for the chance to show 20 slides for 20 seconds each (this is mad, surely?). Speakers include Rem Koolhaas, Will Alsop and Thomas Heatherwick among many, all for a very short time, presumably.

NB: the London Architecture Biennale and Architecture Week 2006 both run till 25/06.

Original item at:

Ian Simpson: Height

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #155, 9th March 2006

DIFA Tower, Stone House, 122 Leadenhall Street, Heron Tower, the Minerva Building, City Road Basin, 1 Millharbour, the Willis Building; it seems that London is about to become Manhattan-on-Thames, with the Gherkin as the pilot project for a whole swathe of towers being planned to spoil the views of St Paul’s. By way of helping out, Manchester has loaned us its very own tower man, Ian Simpson, to design a really rather large (and not at all phallic) tower on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge. Confusingly, it’s to be known as the Beetham Tower — the same name as Simpson’s newly opened tower in Birmingham. And, er, the name of his other new tower in Manchester. What’s interesting about these towers is that they aim to bring high rise living back into fashion, although this time for the rich, rather than poor people, who only ever moaned about the lifts breaking down anyway. It’s certainly worked for his first residential biggie, No 1 Deansgate, where Manchester’s trendiest urbanites, plus the Beckhams, couldn’t wait to snap up vertically advantaged apartments.

NB: alternatively, you can catch Eva Jiricna on the same night, who will be talking at The Gallery about her life and work.

Original item at:

David Adjaye

June 2, 2009

Kultureflash #148, 18th January 2006

The British architectural establishment has always preferred its modernism to be like its architects: reserved, polite and understated (and even, dare we say it, white). Art in architecture has its place — a rectangle of neatly defined colour on one wall, but never too much to scare the corporate horses. So the old guard of high modernism is having a hard time with David Adjaye, particularly because, like Will Alsop before him, he’s now winning major public commissions. Adjaye, they feel, is too cool for his own good. An avowed self-publicist, he’s fronted a TV show (the greatest single cause of jealousy in architecture) and hangs with the East End art set rather than his architectural peers, often building houses for themChris Ofili and the Chapmans rank among his clients. And where better than the Whitechapel Gallery for a show of 10 of Adjaye’s major public projects — just down the road from his new Ideas Store (a sparkling contemporary take on the public library); he’ll be joined for this launch event by observer of eclectronica Kodwo Eshun.

NB: Making Public Buildings runs till 26/03. On Sun 29/01 (2:30pm) catch David Adjaye as he chats with urban theorist Richard Sennett.

Original item at: