City Hall played host to the AZA 2012 biennial architecture conference, held in Cape Town earlier this month. The conference used “Re:scripting Architecture” as a tantalising conceptual framework inside which speakers presented their work and challenged the practice of architecture. Lindsay Bush gives a snapshot account of two of the UK-based keynote speakers David Adjaye and Kibwe Tavares.
David Adjaye is not a starchitect, but he is pretty famous. So powerful is his stage presence that the witty, eloquent duo of MCs tasked with introducing him were rendered visibly weak in the presence of… stature? Or beauty perhaps? The Tanzanian-born son of a Ghanaian diplomat, Adjaye moved to London aged 9 and went on to study architecture at Southbank University and RCA, winning the RIBA bronze medal in 1993. Established in 2000, his practice has produced some remarkable work.
The majority of the projects Adjaye presented were won by competition, many ‘stolen’ out from under the best names in the business. Museums, libraries, a market hall, a college campus and a private house in locations across the world: all distinctly different buildings in form and materiality, yet each as beautiful as the next.
The ‘box within a box’ typology and the extreme cantilever recurred frequently, as did the importance of human sightlines as connectors – between the users of internal spaces, and also between outside and inside in the form of views. The most distinctive thread running through all the work would probably be a masterful use of light, leading to an architecture that appears grounded and timeless.
Addressing the rescripting of the profession, Adjaye alluded to the revival of the human aspect of architecture and the importance of memory and history: “If the twentieth century was essentially about the invention of techniques, then this one is about returning to the social aspect, remembering who we are and where we’ve come from, and making those techniques work for people.”
Kibwe Tavares is relaxed and unassuming, his quiet south London accent giving little clue to a wisdom far beyond his years. He has a small stage presence, which suits what he does perfectly: the big screen behind him does all the talking. This young man has already rescripted architecture.
He graduated from the Bartlett School of Architecture in London and was awarded the 2011 RIBA silver medal for his architectural animation Robots of Brixton. Tavares’ personal response to the Brixton riots of the 80s, the 6-minute film unravels a familiar townscape, degraded and overlaid with shack-like expansion caused by the influx of the robot working class. The film is at once haunting and gripping, fluid and jarring, and clips of the chaos have a chillingly prophetic resemblance to footage of the very same London high street during the 2011 riots that erupted barely months after its release. This is but one of the visually stunning future dystopias created by members of the young studio Factory Fifteen, co-founded by Tavares.
‘Megalomania’ shows the city of London in a state of total construction, a labyrinth of familiar landmarks that appear either unfinished, incomplete or broken. Overlaid with beautiful soundscapes, this is pure architecture of the imagination, an ethereal one located only in the future… which gives us relief, as the scenarios we see may be visually alluring – enhanced ‘ruin porn’ of the highest order – but they are certainly not realities we would like to inhabit. GAMMA was made on a student field trip to Chernobyl, and tells the story of an alternate future where a developer-driven plot to clean the world’s radioactive cities and make them inhabitable, goes horribly wrong. They send machines to rain down bio organisms designed to suck up the radiation, and they end up taking root and covering over everything. Riveting.
The presentation left students and educators full of questions: “But how is this architecture? How can you make a movie for your thesis?” Kibwe explained how at schools like the Bartlett, architectural proficiency is tested in earlier years and the final project comes with complete creative freedom. These new-generation architects have an entirely different set of tools at their disposal to the practitioners of the past, and make their money doing animations for developers and corporations, giving them the freedom to create their beautiful dystopias. Asked by an audience member why he chooses to create dystopia and not utopias, Kibwe said these were only some of so many possible futures. Perhaps it’s easier for us to imagine things as damaged than ideal, but it’s certainly important to the rescripting of architecture that these young creatives are still imagining, prodding the furthest corners of what our built environment might one day be.
‘Scripting’ is in fact a term used for advanced 3D computer modelling techniques of the sort used by David’s team to generate façade patterns for the Moscow School of Management, or perhaps to allow Kibwe’s robots to run in a humanoid way. At the same time, cultural identity and the past play just as great a role in the design process of David’s Smithsonian Museum of Afro-American History as they do in Factory Fifteen’s film GAMMA. And just as David’s Mass Extinction Monitoring Observatory (MEMO) will stand as what he calls a giant warning cathedral for mankind, the films showed by his younger peer prompt us to really think about what kind of future lies in store should we as a species continue to behave as we have thus far.
Find out more
To see more of David Adjaye’s work go to www.adjaye.com
To see more of Kibwe Taveres’ work go to www.factoryfifteen.com
Text by Lindsay Bush, images supplied.