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THE ART/ARCHITECTURE HYBRID SEEMS TO THRIVE ONLY ON FOREIGN SOIL

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EDITORIAL

Element House, this week's Building Study, is by a Norwegian architect for a Korean client; an instance of a certain kind of art/architecture hybrid which appears to thrive on foreign soil.

Initiatives such as Percent for Art have nurtured the British belief that art and architecture are additive as opposed to symbiotic. Perhaps the most absurd manifestation of this view is the public arts strategy devised by Cywaith Cymru for the Richard Rogers Partnership's National Assembly for Wales. Cywaith Cymru's insistence that artists and architects worked together in a seamless collaboration is belied by comments such as the deadpan assertion that 'Martin Richman was appointed to work on adding colour to the new building'. Adding colour? To Richard Rogers?

It is hard to imagine a more successful public artwork than RRP's timber-clad 'tree trunk' or 'bell' at the heart of the Welsh Assembly, which directs the eye to the overarching canopy of the undulating roof. Or a more poetic symbolic gesture than the circular roof light at the top of the bell, and the shaft of light which permeates the assembly chamber below.

Yet it is brutishly undermined by the circular artwork positioned directly below it.

Entitled Heart of Wales (lest there be any misunderstanding) Alex Beleschenko's domed glass mosaic draws the eye downwards; an insistent challenge to the natural inclination to look up towards the light. As a final irony, visitors are asked not to stand on the art. The Welsh Assembly marks the culmination of a career dedicated to creating an architectural expression to democratic ideals. It is designed to be egalitarian and accessible and robust.

Yet it says 'keep away' when you get to its heart.

Art and architecture are forced into an unseemly tussle; a natural consequence of the national belief that architecture is a canvas for art rather than art in itself.

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