The last exhibition in the Architecture Foundation's series 'Public Views' manifests a concern with the phenomenology of place that is typical of the Cambridge school of architectural thought and education, and indicated by the fact of Peter Carl's contribution to the accompanying catalogue. 'Presences', subtitled 'The common place in architecture and art', is the result of a collaboration between the newish architectural practice 5th Studio and the sculptor Paul Coldwell. Coldwell sees the collaborative enterprise as 'an opportunity to dream and speculate' and 'a way of archiving ideas'; Tom Holbrook of 5th Studio describes it as a way of engaging with the 'ludic quality' and 'transformational power' of some art practice.
Disappointingly, the team's joint exposition offered little lucid insight into the actual concepts behind the exhibition, which was developed in response to the Architecture Foundation's invitation to emerging practices and their collaborators to propose an installation, and evokes the material culture of the domestic environment. Helen Stratford's performance-evocation in the space, designed as a series of opening and closing cupboard-like structures, drew out the repetition and monotony of the physical movements and domestic activities that characterize private life and are paralleled by the methodical, small-scale technical detail of architectural specifications that constitute the essence of everyday architectural practice and realization of its dreams. But Holbrook, whose background in theatre and film has clearly been of influence in the conception of 'architectural settings', avoided detail in his brief discussion of the genesis and development of the ideas, speaking in more sweeping terms of the 'real and fragile process of emerging ideas through architecture' and an interest in 'disturbing the familiarity' of familiar settings.
Holbrook refers to 'the hairiness of some ideas and where they come from' and attests to an interest in 'how the conceptual becomes part of the built environment'. He speaks of 'the propositional quality of what an architect can do' and the 'necessary suspension of belief to allow new work to evolve from old'.Much of that was resolved only in the actual hang of the exhibition, involving 'enormous trust on Paul's part'. As an artist, Coldwell habitually works within more compressed time-frames than the architect. That key difference clearly contributed to the dynamic of the collaborative relationship. Incorporated within the installation are a series of white plaster objects made by Coldwell, which he describes as 'little pure thoughts': another significant point of contrast between the work of artist and architect, for whom there can never be any possibility of realising an idea in its pure state.
As Holbrook says: 'Compromise is evident in the domestic setting - and we get a lot out of it.' If only we could have heard more about it.
5th Studio and Paul Coldwell were speaking at the Architecture Foundation as part of its programme for the promotion of emerging architects and designers.