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Grafton: 'Every dimension, every niche, every surface in architecture makes a difference’

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Rory Olcayto intreviews Yvonne Farrell

The curator’s question, ‘what is architecture?’, is a rather large question. And because our work tries to emphasise the site-specific nature of the world, and we had these two beautiful rooms with wonderful rooflights to work with, we thought: light. Light is the material we could work with. Not just light per se, but how light and architecture are so intertwined.

Light: it’s the free ingredient of life. But our work here is also about architecture having a fourth dimension: time. This is an architecture of light and of time.

The architect Laurent Beaudouin said: architecture is a machine for slowing time down. This isn’t a Disneyland exhibition. We want people to just spend a little time sitting and watching. In both rooms we have worked with fantastic lighting designers to create a 20-minute cycle that represents the changing character of light in London at this time of year. Buildings are really a vessel for capturing the movement, the orbit of the Earth.

There is a contrast between the two spaces, when you go from one to the other: this one tends to make you quieter, more introverted, more intimate. The other, with the bold light of day, is more connected to, and you are more aware of, the sky. The dark room is more of the Earth somehow; the structures are hanging, but this is about mass, so you get a kind of play of weight, gravity and suspense.

There are two projects that we are referring to here. One is the Office of Public Works, a stone building we did in Dublin. There, on one surface, we held the stone back from it by 20mm. This made a huge difference to the sunlight which enters the building. Every dimension, every niche, every surface in architecture makes a difference. Here, in this room, we’ve cut into two of the corners of the suspended structure: there are two light chimneys, as we call them. As a result, the light is held there.

The other project is Università Bocconi in Milan, where the principal element is a 22-metre cantilever, and which has that primitive sense of weight bearing down. We wanted to deal with mass and gravity as a component of architecture too - but still with a focus on light. So by hanging it from the rooflight, it not only allows us to use the light, but is also the source of our structure.

  • Yvonne Farrell was interviewed by Rory Olcayto
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