Meeting Architecture: Architecture and the Creative Process

The BSR’s new architecture programme Meeting Architecture: Architecture and the Creative Process will commence on Tuesday 29 October with a lecture and study-exhibition by Adam Caruso (Caruso St John Architects) and the artist Thomas Demand. Curator of the BSR’s Architecture programme, Marina Engel, spoke to Elena Bordignon about the idea behind the project.

Meeting Architecture is a very generous title, a sort of invitation to meet architecture, to understand it, its problems and potential. What is the main theme of the project?

We rarely reflect on how architecture, perhaps more than any other profession, often touches on and includes an extraordinary range of disciplines.  In our previous programmes on urbanism, we have focussed on the need for architects to negotiate politics, sociology, psychology, economics, science, history, archaeology in their work and even that is a limited list.  Meeting Architecture, will instead concentrate on the relationship between architects and practitioners of other creative processes.

Why do you think it is important to investigate the nature of collaborations between artists and practitioners of other creative disciplines like cinema, art and music?

In Britain, in 1956, the exhibition This is Tomorrow at London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery saw artists, architects, musicians and graphic designers working together in a seminal art exhibition. The crossing of boundariesbetween the different creative processes has since become a characteristic of British culture. Internationally too, contemporary architects are designing an increasing number of art spaces, galleries and museums as well as concert halls, performing arts spaces, fashion sets, etc. They are constantly expected to understand and accommodate other creative processes in order to design their work successfully. This process has also led to a number of fascinating collaborations, most notably between artists and architects, two fields that are historically closely linked.

Meeting Architecture will examine some of these collaborations and focus on those rarer examples inwhich architects and artists conceive and design the projects together as opposed to architects inviting artists to decorate a finished building. The programme will also consider less explored territories such as music, and look at some of the projects that unite architects and composers focusing on how architecture, venue and context can help shape the artistic output of composers, an area that has not been widely investigated. The concept of cinema as the architecture of moving space has often been discussed. However, there has been less consideration of how many film directors, directors of photography and scenographers have been trained as architects and of the considerable influence that this has had on their work in film.

This is a selection however, we could also consider the relationship between architecture and fashion, architecture and the performing arts or many others. For the moment, we have selected disciplines that are represented in our research and activities at the British School at Rome

The  programme will open on 29 October  with a lecture/study-exhibition called Madame Wu and the Mill from Hell.  The Anglo-Canadian architect  Adam Caruso and the German artist Thomas Demand will  meet to discuss the nature of their collaborations.

Could you tell me how you conceived the project of their study-exhibition?

I think that Adam Caruso and Thomas Demand are a rare example of artists and architects who conceive and develop their projects together. A lot of collaborations follow the format of the example I gave earlier. In the study-exhibition, we shall concentrate on three examples. Two began with the artist inviting the architect to collaborate with him; the design of Thomas’s exhibition at the Nationalgalerie and the design of his house near Berlin. Conversely, for the Nagelhaus, a public commission in Zurich which is our third case study, the architect Adam Caruso invited the artist Thomas Demand to jointly develop the concept.

Is there an example – not necessarily contemporary – of a collaboration between an architect and an artist, that you consider particularly significant? And why?

There are many such examples, but I think a reported conversation between Le Corbusier and Jacques Lipchitz really summarises how many architects look at collaborations with artists. Jacques Lipchitz described being shown the Square du Docteur Blanche by Le Corbusier when it was quite new. It is closed off by a curved wall and Lipchitz suggested he could do a relief on it – to which Le Corbusier replied: ‘Vous n’avez rien compris, Lipchitz! c’est le mur même qui est l’oeuvre d’art’.

In the presentation of the project, you raise many questions. One question in particular really fascinates me: ‘How do you define creativity in architecture?’

How would you reply to this question?

I don’t have a clear answer and that is what prompted me to work on this programme. They are all questions I would like to investigate. The one you have chosen is the most difficult. When it is already challenging to define ‘architecture’ as a discipline, how do you then define ‘creativity in architecture’? Reinier de Graaf will talk about this in his lecture:

“Why is it that so many disciplines resort to architectural terms to describe their strategies, concepts and ideas. Does architecture and the way of thinking that comes with it have a validity beyond making buildings?”

On what basis have you chosen the programme’s many future participants?

We have tried to choose some of the most interesting examples in various fields across a range of countries. Of course it is just a selection and there are many other interesting examples of collaborations that we could discuss for years to come!

This text has been adapted from an interview originally produced in Italian in the blog ATP Diary.

See the BSR website to find out more about the Meeting Architecture programme.