Under the skin

Words:
Pamela Buxton

Betts Project show gets right inside Caruso St John’s models to explore the architect’s thoughts and methods

Caruso St John, Diorama, exhibition view.
Caruso St John, Diorama, exhibition view. Credit: Betts Project

Following the to-do over Assemble’s triumph in the Turner Prize, can anything new be added to the debate on the crossover between art and architecture? Diorama, a modest new exhibition at the Betts Project in Clerkenwell, considers another strand of the subject through the models of Caruso St John.

The gallery was set up in 2013 by Marie Coulon with the aim of exploring new ways of thinking about architecture, and to introduce architectural objects such as models and other forms of representation as works of art. Rather than technical drawings, these may have been produced to stimulate ideas, or as a form of intellectual diversion. 

  • Caruso St John, Diorama, exhibition view with model of Newport Street Gallery in the foreground.
    Caruso St John, Diorama, exhibition view with model of Newport Street Gallery in the foreground. Credit: Betts Project
  • Caruso St John, Diorama, exhibition view.
    Caruso St John, Diorama, exhibition view. Credit: Betts Project
  • Caruso St John, Diorama, exhibition view.
    Caruso St John, Diorama, exhibition view. Credit: Betts Project
  • Caruso St John, Sporttheatre Arosa (2000), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7.
    Caruso St John, Sporttheatre Arosa (2000), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7. Credit: Betts Project
  • Caruso St John, Parasite, study for an exhibition (2000), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7.
    Caruso St John, Parasite, study for an exhibition (2000), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7. Credit: Betts Project
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‘These images are fundamentally architectural in that they have been produced by architects, but they are also artful in that they are personal and their existence is only at the level of graphic representation (and not a precursor to built form),’ she says.

In Diorama, the focus is on photographs of the inside of models created by Caruso St John for its building projects. These meticulously-created inner worlds are displayed around the walls of the gallery while the centre is taken up by 1:50 models, created using five pastel colours to represent details on the flat surfaces, and varying thicknesses of paint.

The photos show the extraordinary efforts that the practice makes to capture the atmosphere of the buildings it is designing. Adam Caruso talks about ‘finding the image of a project’ and these photographs – and the models created just to produce the images – are part of this process.

  • Caruso St John, Brick House, London (2001-2005), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7.
    Caruso St John, Brick House, London (2001-2005), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7. Credit: Betts Project
  • Caruso St John, Museo Diocesano, Milan (2007), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7.
    Caruso St John, Museo Diocesano, Milan (2007), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7. Credit: Betts Project
  • Caruso St John, New Art Gallery Walsall (1995), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7,.
    Caruso St John, New Art Gallery Walsall (1995), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7,. Credit: Betts Project
  • Caruso St John, Another Glass House (1991), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7.
    Caruso St John, Another Glass House (1991), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7. Credit: Betts Project
  • Caruso St John, Veemgebouw, Strijp S, Eindhoven (2007-2010), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7,.
    Caruso St John, Veemgebouw, Strijp S, Eindhoven (2007-2010), 2017, photograph, 16.8 x 21 cm, edition of 7,. Credit: Betts Project
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I find the interior photographs the most compelling – whether the extraordinary detail of the brick walls within Brick House or the dappled light illuminating the inside of the firm’s project for Chichester Museum. The photograph of the Cultural & Tourist Centre at Ascona in Switzerland conveys the drama of the view toward the massive windows that maximize views over the lake from within the building.

I’d have liked to know a little more about how and why such images were made, and how they feed into the creative processes at Caruso St John.

The photos are deliberately not labelled, encouraging the viewer to see them simply as images rather than representations of particular architectural projects. However, this doesn’t help understanding of what’s going on in this exhibition, which will surely appeal primarily to other architects interested in gaining an insight into the working practices of Caruso St John.


Caruso St John | Diorama, until 25 February (Wednesday – Saturday), Betts Project, 100 Central Street, London EC1V 8AJ