Making art and architecture sexy
As with trying to define art, talking about the best and most appropriate ways to instigate good working relationships between artists and architects can be difficult. But last week's Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (rias) convention in Edinburgh, 'Spaces: art and architecture' had a fairly good stab at it. One speaker even suggested creating a bar where the two factions could get together, with an upstairs 'bedchamber area' if they really hit it off ...
The first day of the conference was staged within a stone's throw of the new Scottish Parliament at Michael Hopkins and Partners' Dynamic Earth Centre. By pure coincidence, given rmjm's emergence to the fore of Enric Miralles' controversial project, it was a rmjm director, Paul Stallan, who was first up at the podium. But it was perhaps to be expected in the circumstances that a planned art update on integrating works at Holyrood had to be cancelled at the last minute.
Stallan talked of his work at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow: 'it's almost Glasgow in microcosm', but featuring a striking mountainscape intervention, created for the boardroom. 'As architects we can learn a great deal from artists - if we can take that step we'll be richer for it.'
Visual Arts Project co-director Julia Radcliffe showed the audience a selection of works featuring plastic cherub dolls and skulls but said that a scheme at the Tron where the floors were overwritten with the opinions of the building from the staff, some mundane, some funny, some thoughtful, was not well-received by the staff themselves. Some artworks, in some buildings, don't work.
Reiach and Hall director Neil Gillespie's devotion to a good working relationship with artists extended even to creating 'Sleeper' - a space given over to artists in the practice office. But perhaps the highlight of the first morning came from artists themselves, rather than those talking about employing or working with them. Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion's landscape-based work was a delight. 'Migrator' is in the World Business Centre, a British Airports Authority building at Heathrow designed by Bennetts Associates - 'architecture which was quite difficult to work with'. It involves a play on arrivals and departures and the atmosphere of the airport where the sounds of migrating birds were recorded and played on a loop to video footage of their flight -a neat joke on nature and artifice. A similar art 'joke' was in 'The Horn', an installation (pictured below) on the M8 motorway between east and west Scotland. 50,000 cars a day see the 24m tall structure, which had a brief to last for 30 years. A random recording of civil rights leaders, bands playing 'Onward Christian Soldiers' and other messages are blasted out to the cars, and to the golf course the work sits in. Another piece featured a huge mirror attached to the cliff edge off Whitehaven, reflecting the sea so it appears as a 'tile' in the sky.
Jess Fernie from the Royal Society of Arts, Art for Architecture scheme showed an image of Mussolini as an exaggerated example of some architects' egomaniacal views of the artist or anyone who challenges 'his' opinion, and quoted Will Alsop's view that it is 'impossible to collaborate with an artist who you don't like, can't have a drink with or even sleep with'. There is sadly no formal place for artists and architects to meet, hence Fernie's bedchamber notion and the need for 'chemistry.' Architects, she recommended, should go to degree shows and 'develop personal interest and relationships with artists.'
Art2Architecture joint-founder Peter Fink was also on the subject of 'creative collaborations', but was on spikier form. The Architecture Foundation 'lost the plot', he said, in its Roadshow at Newham in 'dictating the terms, bringing in outside practices'. Fink came into the area latterly and picked up a new £1 million public space commission at Stratford. And Future Systems' Lord's Media Centre was 'immensely inefficient' as a monocoque structure 'tied down.' Selected schemes included Fink's bridge concept for the Royal Docks, a lighting design for Ian Ritchie's controversial multiplex design at Crystal Palace and the same architect's proposed spire in Dublin.
Will Alsop employs three artists, but doesn't like to think of them as such - they're just part of the team. Alsop and Stormer is one of the key collaborators, at buildings like Tottenham Hale Station, Cardiff Barrage, Marseilles and Northampton. Engineers today, meanwhile, have been 'elevated to absurdly high positions because they can give certainty and society doesn't like risk.' For Alsop this is like knowing what sex is going to be like, leaving little point in having it. A convention theme was beginning to emerge.
But Alsop also had an innovative way of funding art, exemplified at his so-called 'Impossible Building' in Rotterdam, on which he worked with artist Bruce McLean. 'If he needs money I'll up my fee to the client and give it to Bruce,' he said. 'Of course architecture is an art, but the problem is that the architects that think their buildings are artworks are usually the architects that are deluding themselves and probably do need the art.'
The second day was chaired from the Royal Lyceum Theatre by Tessa Jackson (see profile page 24). Edinburgh architect Malcolm Fraser began by reinforcing the notion of architecture as a collaborative art with schemes like the Scottish Poetry Library, with its windows etched with words from Scottish verse and a vision of his carefully thought out centre for dance for Dance Base.
Sune Nordgren, the director of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, was without Anish Kapoor, who he had planned to talk alongside, but Kapoor's work was much in evidence. Nordgren worked with the artist in Malmo, his last gallery, and at the Baltic on 'Blood', a huge curvaceous, womb-like, red pvc canvas over its nine floors. Kapoor told Nordgren that coming from an Indian anti-phallic tradition of art, 'climbing into his own art work was like the big return.'
Lord Foster offered little in the way of comment on the incorporation of artworks, instead offering an impressive whistle-stop tour around the practice's portfolio, from world buildings to door handles. The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was important for the people spaces at the base, the Willis Faber building for the gardens in the sky concept which carried through into the Commerzbank tower and utilised too the aerodynamics of the triangular Barcelona tower. The - as yet - unbuilt Swiss Re building is the logical extension of the principles. Foster lingered on the merits of Stansted versus Heathrow, and on the under-fire Wembley project (which features more office space than the largest single office building at Canary Wharf). And at Canary Wharf, the practice is working with Bridget Riley on a colourful atrium space. At the British Museum, it is Anish Kapoor again, who will be creating a feature for the entrance.
And us artist John David Mooney gave an overview of his public art work including 'Magnolia', a huge sculpted roof top rose he worked on in Notting Hill with Piers Gough. Finally, Erick van Egeraat gave an entertaining endpiece ruminating on the differences between art and architecture, heritage, quality and arcane British planning rules.
If there was a lesson in all of this, then it was perhaps that well-appointed, sensitively sited art works can delight, inform and add to the building as envisioned by the architect. The two distinct disciplines clearly just have to get into bed with each other more.