Canadian show explores investigations of architecture beyond building
Commune architecture, architects designing live on television, forensic architecture… all are part of The Other Architect, a new exhibition that considers the work of radicals who chose to develop their ideas through alternative, research-based practice rather than (or in addition to) buildings.
Organised by The Canadian Centre for Architecture, the exhibition aims to explore how this architecture of ideas can shape the contemporary cultural agenda, and in doing so questions the boundaries of what is conventionally considered the role of the architect.
It’s a refreshing topic in this era of iconic buildings, starchitects and mega-projects. We learn how many of those featured took a more fluid attitude to individual authorship, instead establishing networks, collaborations and partnerships with permeable roles. Rather than built output, their work manifested itself in all sorts of forms – letters, t-shirts, manifestos, videos, books, drawings, photographs, questionnaires, buses, boats – of which 700 of the more portable are displayed in the exhibition.
Case studies feature ‘other’ architects dating from the 1960s to the present day, and include several well known provocateurs and their works – Peter Cook’s Art Net gallery (1973-79), Cedric Price’s Polyark bus tour (1973), Peter Eisenman’s IAUS (1967 – 1983) set up to bridge the gap between theoretical and pragmatic aspects of architecture.
Plenty of the others may be new to today’s audience but sound well worth getting to know. I particularly like the sound of the Architects Revolutionary Council (1974-78) an activist group established by Brian Anson and students of the AA, and the Architectural Detective Agency (1974-86). Founded by Terunobu Fujimori and Takeyoshi Hori in Japan, the latter used field research to document unnoticed or abandoned early modern buildings. It’s often colourful stuff. Kommunen in der Neuen Welt (1969-1976) explored the architecture and lifestyles of communes. Design-A-Thon (1976-1984) was an hour-long television show about urban design with live drafting by the firm Moore Grover Harper.
There are some more contemporary participants including the think tank AMO, established in 1990 as a sister research organisation to OMA. The work of Milan-based Multiplicity (established by Stefano Boeri in 2001) included a prescient look at the complexities and conflicts of migration across the Mediterranean Sea. But the selection suggests that radical ‘other’ architects are somewhat thinner on the ground nowadays, and organisers hope that the exhibition, a research project in itself, might encourage more ‘others’.
Such alternative approaches remain pertinent, according to exhibition curator Giovanna Borasi, who would like to see an expansion in understanding of what architecture is and what architects can do.
‘One way of reading The Other Architect is as a manual for the practice of architecture today. These case studies are all collective endeavours where participants designed a process as they might have approached designing a space,’ she says. ‘The groups represented in The Other Architect remind us that architecture has to do more than just resolve a given set of problems – it has to establish what requires attention today.’
The Other Architect, until 10 April 2016, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, Canada www.cca.qc.ca