O little town . . .
'La Ville en Jeux/Toy-Town' was an exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in 1997-98, writes Peter Smithson. Curator Cammie McAtee selected the exhibits from the cca's own toy-town collection, while we were responsible for the exhibition's design.
The exhibition occupied two rooms - one square and dimly side-lit, one a top-lit octagon - and a narrow balcony off the main entrance stair to the exhibition galleries.
Within these spaces the toy-towns were divided into the most primitive of categories: those made of wood, those made of cardboard, and those made of plastic. The square room became the threshold to the exhibition, with the oldest of toys; the octagon was the main display; while the balcony was used for the plastic toys (and a toy-town computer game).
For off-the-wall supports, Robert Anderson of the cca offered us the 'steel triangles' which had been used in previous exhibitions.
From this offer the support system sprang: planed, but unpainted, wood supports, unpainted steel triangles, unpainted plywood baseboards with tall Perspex (Plexiglas) covers. The grain of these plywood baseboards was thought into the arrangement of the toys by Bob Donohue of the cca.
Two happenings were unexpected . . .
The first is that in the main display space there occurred the unsought consonance of the steel triangles, which are 45degrees triangles in the vertical plane, with the diagonal sides of the octagon, which are 45degrees in plan.
The second is that the arrangement of the toys, on stands under transparent covers, gave a quasi-sacred feeling to both space and objects, as in the display of sacred objects in the sacrestia of Italian cathedrals.
The heights above the floor were made to suit the toys and the eye-levels of the smaller beholders.
All this kept the floor clear, so the eye passed under all the toys and out into the adjacent rooms . . .
And my mind went back to the exhibition of Giovanni Bellini in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice in 1949, which Carlo Scarpa arranged.
Memory reduces experiences to those things that changed one.
In that exhibition I now believe Brutalism began - the paintings stripped of frames, arranged free-standing in space, and thus submitted to the most elementary and the most intimate scrutiny.
So displayed the paintings were permitted to speak to yet another generation.
Of all the things we have made, the toy-town exhibition seems the simplest statement of the nature of Brutalism since that remembered part of the Bellini exhibition.
The toy-town arrangement starts with something 'as found' (the steel triangles); for the rest, plywood is plywood, Perspex is Perspex, planed timber is planed timber.
Then, the arrangement; the given room-shapes; the octagon, the square, the long rectangle.
Photographs by Michel Legendre, copyright Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal