Serpentine Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto

This is the latest Serpentine Gallery Pavilion designed by Sou Fujimoto and unveiled yesterday. At 41, the Japanese architect is the youngest creative to participate in the design of this temporary structure that resides in London’s Kensington Garden for four months.

His creation is a delicate, three-dimensional latticed structure made of 20mm fine steel poles that forms a lightweight and semi-transparent sculpture almost blending in with the surrounding landscape. The flexible, multi-purpose social space has a café inside to encourage park visitors to enter and interact with the Pavilion.

Fujimoto is very much part of an exciting generation of avant-garde artists who are re-inventing our relationship with the built environment. Inspired by organic structures, such as the forest, the nest and the cave, his signature buildings inhabit a space between nature and artificiality.

He describes his design concept: ‘The delicate quality of the structure, enhanced by its semi-transparency, creates a geometric, cloud-like form, as if it were mist rising from the undulations of the park. From certain vantage points, the Pavilion appears to merge with the classical structure of the Serpentine Gallery, with visitors suspended in space.’

Fujimoto is the third Japanese architect to design the Pavilion, following Toyo Ito in 2002 and Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA in 2009. He has completed the majority of his buildings in Japan, with commissions ranging from the domestic, such as Final Wooden House, T House and House N, to the institutional, such as the Musashino Art Museum and Library at Musashino Art University.

The Pavilion is an exciting project that is organised by the Serpentine Gallery. Past work have included designs by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei (2012), Frank Gehry (2008), the late Oscar Niemeyer (2003) and Zaha Hadid, who designed the inaugural structure in 2000.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our previous reports on the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion projects here.

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Home in the Arab world

The private space is seldom a major topic for an international exhibition, especially one that focuses on the Arab world. ‘Home: Contemporary Architectural Interpretations of the Home in the Arab World’ has set out to do just this.

This intriguing exhibition, intimately curated at the Mosaic Rooms in London, explores the domestic architectural space in the context of the Middle East and North Africa and by doing so raises all sorts of intriguing ideas around Arab identity, and the sheer cultural diversity in the region.

Architects representing Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar and Yemen investigate contemporary regional domestic architecture, new modes of social housing and what makes a home when you take it away from its geographical location.







Shahira Fahmy Architects, for instance, challenges the traditional boundaries of the interior and exterior of the Egyptian home. Her labyrinth space takes us on a little journey to explore a new type of domestic living that no longer reflects on the duality of private and public, instead merging the two spaces.

Kilo Architecture proposal focuses on the objects that inhabit the home rather than the structure itself. The Paris based firm’s artful collage presents ten key objects that define a sense of place and national identity for the Moroccan diaspora with images of ‘motherland’ reflecting on the white washed installation.

‘With the Arab world everyone starts talking about the courtyard, contradictions of tradition and modernity – we are tired of this conversation,’ partner Tarik Oualalou tells me at the exhibition. ‘We sometimes forget as architects that architecture is not just about buildings but the people who live in them.’

Oualalou is also part of the Moroccan diaspora. His research found that this group, no matter what age, tend to recreate a mini Morocco made of eight to ten of these key objects wherever they go. Funnily enough the majority of these objects are no longer made locally but in China, so in a sense it isn’t about artisan but the rituals.

‘What makes the home is the objects, the rituals, the software not the hardware,’ says Oualalou. ‘Recreating this sense of place is interesting from a political sense too. Moroccans always integrate but at the same time feel deeply Moroccan and keep a strong tie, and that tie is rooted in the home.’

In complete contrast, London-based architect AMBS has looked at ways of rebuilding communities in Iraq. The project looks at a non-site-specific low-cost housing scheme. The configuration of maisonettes creates natural courtyards designed to encourage the formation of neighbourhoods.

The scheme is highly sustainable too – soil from digging the foundations can be used by local people to create their own bricks and wind towers artfully integrated into the design will provide the essential energy.

‘In high-density living areas people identify with courtyards, children can play and it gives a sense of ownership and a way of creating communities,’ explains architect Marcos de Andres. The brightly coloured houses form clusters where there would be schools, shops and other facilities as a way of looking at rebuilding cities.

‘Bearing in mind this is cheap housing you can still make it cheerful, reliable, dynamic rather than boring or repetitive. It is a step forward to rebuilding the country,’ he notes.

Home is organised by London based Museum of Architecture. It forms part of London Festival of Architecture and will be on exhibit at the Mosaic Rooms until 7 July 2012.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

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Stillspotting nyc: To a Great City

For the second edition of stillspotting nyc, To a Great City, Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and US and Norway–based architect Snøhetta are creating urban soundscapes around Lower Manhattan to explore the relationship between space and sound.

Organised by the Guggenheim Museum, stillspotting nyc is a two-year multidisciplinary project that explores the relationship between space and silence within the crowded urban environment.

Working with a select group of architects, artists, designers, students, composers and philosophers, it combines urban experiences and public education programs – taking the museum’s architecture and urban studies programming into New York’s five boroughs.

Pärt has described his music as a frame for silence and uses reduction of sound rather than augmentation to create his compositions. Pärt’s concept of tintinnabuli – “little bells” in Latin – which forms the basis of most of his work, was born from his vision for an extremely nuanced aural environment that could not be measured, so to speak, in kilometers or meters but only in millimeters. His pieces often revolve around a central tone that reappears consistently throughout the work.

Snøhetta has selected — and in some cases subtly altered — urban spaces that embody the concept of a central tone and extend the perception of sound into the realm of space.

Visitors will experience this confluence of music and architecture at five separate locations downtown that quietly celebrate the city, ten years after the September 11 attacks.

Travelling through sites along the periphery of Ground Zero, participants may encounter a green labyrinth created by The Battery Conservancy, reflect in an underground chamber at Governors Island National Monument, and enter otherwise inaccessible spaces in landmark skyscrapers.

The stillness and seclusion of these spaces heightens awareness and recalibrates one’s senses. Over the course of a day, participants may visit each space multiple times at their leisure to understand how their perception changes based on circumstances such as time, stress, appetite, and sleep. Listeners become increasingly sensitised as they are drawn in and ideally will be transformed to a focused and still state.

Most of these images are from the first edition of stillspotting nyc. For more information visit here.

Guest blogger Sean Jackson

To a Great City, the Manhattan edition of stillspotting nyc, will be open to the public for two extended weekends on September 15–18 and 22–25, 2011 at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, US.

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