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BOOK

REVIEW

2G 34: Sergison Bates Gustavo Gili, 2005.145pp. £21.50

The 2G format is well established and finely produced.

It is at its best when recognising architects on the margins (Lina Bo Bardi), on the threshold of international recognition (Lacaton and Vassal), or on the brink of being forgotten (Max Bill). We are all drawn to beginnings, to the obscure, to the extraordinary. 2G occasionally opens a door to those territories (and sometimes even a wardrobe door).

Sergison Bates has a carefully cultivated and tended oeuvre, that fits the 2G format well. Unlike some editions where one has the sense of selective memory, of a practice's best hits, this one suggests completeness - in all it's an honest monograph.

Sergison Bates belongs to a loose group of architects who look to the Smithsons for sustenance and direction - the group also includes Tony Fretton, Caruso St John, Jonathan Woolf, David Adjaye.

One image in the book shows this group of enthusiasts sitting on the terrace of the Smithsons' Sugden House. There is something of the great English amateur about their approach.

Like amateur astronomers alert and watchful in their garden sheds, working with the most basic of equipment, they trawl the heavens relying on their intimate knowledge of the subject, and make remarkable observations and discoveries.

As architects they arm themselves only with cement boards, larch cladding and common bricks. But, like all things superficially amateur, their approach belies a deep and clear credibility and understanding.

Theirs is an unseen trajectory, unlike those of the fêted stars who email their superficial visions around the globe and, like some comet, burn brightly in the sky but disappear in a moment.

Sergison Bates stands in opposition to the artificial and the virtual.

As well as an enviable reputation as practising architects, Jonathan Sergison and Stephen Bates have an equally growing reputation as teachers at the formidable ETH Zurich. For them, reflection and construction go hand in hand.

It is no coincidence that they teach in Switzerland, as their work is at home there.

Indeed their work may be more visible if viewed from a Swiss context: think of 1930s Neues Bauen, notably Emil Roth's superb Im Rohrbruck youth hostel in Zurich - functional, critical, and modest.

Sergison Bates exudes a rigorous intelligence that is founded on research, both cultural and constructional.

However, on closer examination their work is not all Swiss seriousness - it contains the curious Englishness of CS Lewis and the Tales of Narnia.

The Stevenage semidetached houses not only investigate the use of a 'breathing' construction;

they also explore a world of half-remembered forms in a commentary on suburbia.

Reviewed in an essay by Adrian Forty, 'The Comfort Of Strangeness', the Bethnal Green studio house is equally unsettling. Its dreamlike and difficult spaces unwrap like a scene from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. What you see is not necessarily what you get.

We are invited into a seemingly ordinary world, only to find ourselves completely lost to our imaginations.

This is a thorough monograph, detailing all of Sergison Bates' significant works to date and including texts by the architects themselves as well as considered and revealing essays by David Chipperfield, Philip Ursprung and Peter Allison (and Forty).

It leaves you eager for the completion of the practice's latest work, but by the time that is published, Sergison Bates may have moved out from the dark side, their natural habitat, into open space - dangerous territory, where architects can lose their integrity or be blinded by the light.

Neil Gillespie is an architect with Reiach & Hall in Edinburgh

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