Architects Build Small Spaces

Monday 21 Jun 2010

Best things come in small packages at the V&A as architects experiment with size

From 15th June to 30th August the V&A in central London will be hosting an exciting new exhibition whereby, in Serpentine Pavilion fashion, seven experimental architects create their first UK works for public consumption and enjoyment. Dotted around the museum, these full-scale structures are designed to entice visitors to explore the themes of work, play, space, rest and retreat. Exhibition curator for the V&A, Abraham Thomas, explains: ‘these projects promote an attitude to architecture where to ‘dwell’ means something more than simply to find shelter’. In a city where time is money, an exhibition that slows down and challenges the visitor to release their curious inner child is something of a blessing.

Helen & Hard – Ratatosk
Nature takes centre stage in Helen & Hard’s organic installation, as onsite architects Dag Strass and Caleb Reed create a magical miniature tree palace. Five individual ash trees have been split lengthways and planted face to face, topped with a woven canopy of willow strips. This allows the visitor to experience the sensation of stepping into the ‘interior’ of a tree, completely encased in tree-cage as they tread over the soft play-surface of wood shavings. The trees were deliberately hand-picked from Norway and put through a complex 3D-scanning process to create a series of ‘digital maps’. Precise sections were then removed using a CNC router – a milling machine usually used in contemporary furniture manufacture. A woven mesh of willow is grafted onto the vertical lengths of ash, creating a natural tent-like structure that plays with knarled external texture and smooth interior spaces, and the interplay between craft and digital fabrication.

Sou Fujimoto Architects – Inside/Outside Tree
Japanese firm Sou Fujimoto Architects have designed their structure with a twist on the traditional Japanese concept of thresholds. The result is a complex amalgamation of polygonal sheets of acrylic, bound together with cable ties to create an abstract tree form. With a focus on thresholds – or ‘engawa’, the Japanese term for a platform that separates the house from the garden – Inside/Outside Tree examines this sense of ‘in-between-ness’. Placed in Architecture Room 127, the structure is said to be ‘quite breathtaking’, as Thomas looks forward to seeing the structure as it ‘basks in the late afternoon sunlight of the summer months that lie ahead of us’. Similarly to Helen & Hard’s Ratatosk, Inside/Outside Tree experiments with the integration of man-made materials and form, with traditional techniques such as the oversized stitching of the acrylic sheets.

Terunobu Fujimori – Beetle’s House
Strong, dark and fantastically stimulating is Terunobu Fujimori’s Beetle’s House, whose velvety charred pine exterior invites the visitor to become tactile, tempting them to ascend barefoot up its external ladder and squeeze through a narrow hatch to experience the interior space. Based on the traditional Japanese teahouse, this quintessentially English variation ‘expresses an avant-garde attitude to architecture that somehow aspires to a primitive state’. In burning the pine wood that makes up the facade, Fujimori creates an indulgently textured surface whilst preserving the wood and henceforth extending the lifetime of the building. The visitor’s intrigue is further fuelled as the teahouse is elevated on four ‘legs’, preventing passers-by from peering through the small shuttered window, therefore ensuring that they physically enter the structure via the miniature hatch. Part-way through the construction process, the design concept was slightly altered – now two long benches stand where six separate stools should have been.

Rintala Eggertsson Architects – Ark
In a momentary regression from the world’s increasing technological advancements, Rintala Eggertsson Architects’ design takes the visitor back to a time where the book was an integral part of everyday life. This free-standing tower, nestled into a staircase that leads to the V&A’s National Art Library, celebrates the beauty of the traditional text. A vibrant mix of colours is dispersed by the minimalist white strips of exposed page edges that form the facades of the structure, sporting hundreds of shelves showcasing thousands of texts. Ark provides the key to those wishing to escape from the technological dependencies of such a large, high-powered city.

Architects Build Small Spaces runs from 15th June – 30th August 2010. Admission is free, however the structures have limited capacity and there may be queues during busy periods. Open 10am-5.45pm daily, 10am-10pm Fridays. Click here for more information.

Sian Disson
Editorial Assistant

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