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Architecture in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Glasgow School of Art and its Future

Like many people, I was again saddened, shocked, and frankly annoyed to see Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, engulfed in smoke and flame for the second time in just four years. It was a radical piece of architecture that helped to shape the development of early 20thC Modernist architecture, and unlike a lot of contemporary and experimental work it was much loved and held a popular appeal.
The charred remains have yet to cool, but a fierce debate has erupted on the future of the building. On the one hand there is an impassioned plea to demolish and rebuild a new structure that would be something of ‘our time’; with any attempts to refabricate the ‘original’ resulting in a ‘replica’, that is, a fake.

Glasgow school of Art

Glasgow School of Art, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

This faction argues that a rebuilt school would be rendered a ‘museum piece’, and that a new school would somehow respond better to the needs of today’s students.  For sure, it is a compelling argument and after the shock of the tragic event it shows a fighting spirit and an optimism that all architects possess to create a better future. If an architect were to design a new building today that mimicked, or somehow parodied the ‘Mackintosh style’, then for sure, that would not be the way forward for architecture. But this is not a newly commissioned project, rather it should be a restoration of a dilapidated shell.

“The handle has been replaced several times, and the blade was changed once, but this knife has been in our family for centuries”

Unlike other works of art, such as painting or sculpture, there is a utilitarian, designerly approach in building, and buildings are made of many components, materials and finishes. They can all be replaced or remade. Certain parts of a building inevitably wear-out and have to be replaced; lead flashing is carefully reinserted, roofs are precisely re-laid, window frames rot, and sometimes windows are smashed and replaced. We accept this continual, sensitive remaking and in the case of buildings like the GSA undertake this process with extreme diligence. This is all part of a building’s ability to endure time and survive, and whilst a fire rapidly accelerates this process, it need not be the end. Buildings are never complete, they are always unfinished and being continually remade through the acts of everyday use. They develop patina, tarnishes, stains, and are weathered, changing all buildings for better or for worse. This aging cannot be replicated of course, but it demonstrates that a building is not a pristine artefact, there is a spectrum of aging and renewal.

The surviving GSA structure could be retained and kept in its ruinous state as a kind of memorial to what we once had. Some of the ‘original’ fabric would be retained and fixed to commemorate Mackintosh’s genius. It could become a shrine with a steady pilgrimage of architects’ eager to touch the stone relics with their direct link back to the hand of the Mackintosh. This would surely be the worst type of preservation – for whilst we would have the vestiges of the School there would be no joy, no use, just a sad lament. The surviving stones might enable a façade to be retained, or possibly form a similar condition to that deployed by Basil Spence at Coventry Cathedral, in the aftermath of World War Two. Whilst this might preserve the outer shell, or image, it wouldn’t suffice because the interiors at GSA were so rich and possibly even more important than the building’s skin.

We should not be afraid to remake architecture, because architecture as a concept is detached from its manifestation as a building. There is the idea and its representation often in the form of drawings and physical models, and then there is the physical construct. The physical entity is of course very important, but it is an outworking of an idea. Unlike painting, where the hand of the artist is important (but not essential) architecture is always remote from the act of construction. Architects make drawings that are then interpreted and fabricated by teams of artisans, technicians and craftspeople into the built object. Inevitably there are gaps between the artist’s intentions and the drawings they produce, and then of course there are numerous clefts between the drawings and the constructed piece. Decisions are made ‘on site’ and changes made on the hoof – this is all part of the construction process. In many buildings there is even a devolution of some parts of the design to the craftspeople on site, especially in decorative pieces, or commissioned artworks and sculptures. The core idea remains and is entirely the responsibility (and gift) of the designer, but it is important not to overly fetishize the object as a fixed, pristine artefact.

A burned out Jaguar E-Type can be fully restored, and even enhanced to suit modern environmental standards as the ‘Concept Zero’ illustrates. In no way does this detract from the ‘original’ duplicated model, nor the enjoyment of driving the vehicle. Indeed, there is pleasure and pride to be had from such a restoration. There is certainly room to manoeuvre here in construction and many buildings are sensitively restored and enhanced for modern living and reduced energy use. The drawings produced by Mackintosh (and his wife Margaret) survive and the recent scans and computer models of the building produced in response to Fire no.1 will enable a faithful rebuilding of the GSA. There is no technical reason why this school could not be rebuilt. Other art forms revel in this ability to be remade and enjoyed; music is recorded, plays are performed, artists issue facsimile casts and photographers offer limited edition prints. Walter Benjamin foresaw this in his seminal writing, ‘Art in the age of mechanical reproduction’. I’m not suggesting that multiple GSAs are licensed, but rather the single edition we had is carefully remade in honour of Mackintosh and the city which this building has helped to define and create.

India Buildings by Herbert Rowse

India Buildings by Herbert Rowse

There are claims that a rebuilt School would not be ‘of our time’. Some, like eminent architect Alan Dunlop have claimed that Mackintosh’s would indeed want ‘to see a new school of art fit for the 21stcentury’ – but we can never truly know the wishes of the deceased. Surely the GSA is an excellent didactic tool for today’s students, and in any case it is not very old – it’s a mere blink of an eye in the broader scheme of things. To remake it now would not be a disservice to ‘our time’ but would be a measure of how we value and cherish such works of art. So many buildings have been regrettably erased following fire – to the detriment of our built environment. Gavin Stamp’s publication, Britain’sLost Citiesis a roll call of this approach, whereas when the decision to rebuild has been made the results are rarely questioned. We do not hear claims of, ‘we should have pulled this down and replaced it with something else’. Herbert Rowse’s India Buildings in Liverpool was carefully rebuilt after the effects of incendiary bombs – its authenticity is not questioned because of this; it simply becomes part of the building’s story. Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion was also famously remade and it continues to bring pleasure and delight to all who see it. It is far better to experience this wonderful design than to imagine it’s ‘spirit’ or look at the old photographs.  Plus, we live in an age when this is possible – it is ‘of our time’ to replicate and reproduce components and objects that are better than the ‘originals’.

 

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Call for Papers: COLONIAL AND POSTCOLONIAL LANDSCAPES: Architecture, Cities, Infrastructures

16th – 18th January 2019  |   Lisbon | Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
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The infrastructure of the colonial territories obeyed the logic of economic exploitation, territorial domain and commercial dynamics among others that left deep marks in the constructed landscape. The rationales applied to the decisions behind the construction of infrastructures varied according to the historical period, the political model of colonial administration and the international conjuncture.

This congress seeks to bring to the knowledge of the scientific community the dynamics of occupation of colonial territory, especially those involving agents related to architecture and urbanism and its repercussions in the same territories as independent countries.

It is hoped to address issues such as how colonial infrastructure has conditioned the current development models of the new countries or what options taken by colonial administrations have been abandoned or otherwise strengthened after independence.

The congress is part of the ongoing research project entitled “Coast to Coast – Late Portuguese Infrastructural Development in Continental Africa (Angola and Mozambique): Critical and Historical Analysis and Postcolonial Assessment” funded by ‘Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia’ (FCT – Foundation for Science and Technology), which has as partner the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (FCG).

The aim of this congress is to extend the debate on the repercussions of the decisions taken by the colonial states in the area of ​​territorial infrastructures – in particular through the disciplines of architecture and urbanism – in post-independence development models and the formation of new countries with colonial past

 

1. Projecting Power in Colonial and Post-Colonial Angola and Mozambique: Architecture, Urban Design, Public Art and Monuments (Jeremy Ball, Gerbert Verheij)

2. China in African, Latin American and Caribbean territories: Examining spatial transformations around diplomacy and economic aid (Valeria Guzmán Verri, Natalia Solano Meza)

3. Spaces in the Americas: current efforts towards a non-Eurocentric theory (Fernando Luiz Lara, Marcio Cotrim Cunha)

4. Planned Violence: Post/Colonial Urban Infrastructures, Literature and Culture (Dominic Davies, Elleke Boehmer)

5. Infrastructural development in the European Portuguese territory in the late colonial period (Paulo Tormenta Pinto, João Paulo Delgado)

6. Peripheral infrastructures in late colonial cities (Tiago Castela)

7. Single and collective housing as a modern laboratory in colonial territories: from public order to private initiative (Ana Magalhães)

8. Beyond Colonialism: Afro-Modernist Agents and Tectonics as Expression of Cultural Independence  (Milia Lorraine Khoury, Diogo Pereira Henriques)

9. (De)constructing the Right to the City: Infrastructural policies and practices in Portuguese-speaking African countries (Sílvia Viegas, Sílvia Jorge)

10. The interrupted utopia. Landscapes of modern collective housing in Former European Colonies  (Roberto Goycoolea, Inês Lima Rodrigues)

11. Globalized Regionalism: the inheritance of colonial infrastructure (Eliana Sousa Santos, Susanne Bauer)

12. Materiality & Mobility in the construction of Colonial Landscapes (Alice Santiago Faria)

13. The transnational live project: critical reflections on the ethics, politics and pedagogies of collaborations between the global north and global south (Jhono Bennett, James Benedict Brown, Peter Russell)

14. Colonial Spatiality in African Sahara Regions (Samia Henni)

15. Urban Legacies: linking enclaving and social identities (Anna Mazzolini, Morten Nielsen)

16. The spatialization of population control in late colonialism: contexts, modalities, dynamics (Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo)

As a factor of globalization that accompanied the modern colonial and postcolonial period, transnationalism and an emerging landscape of cosmopolitan sites offered women new proving ground outside established social, cultural, and commercial spheres of architecture and planning. In this session, we investigate the significance of transnational mobility, over an open time period, for women as architects, planners, patrons, builders, curators, historians, or other users of the built environment. Whether their movement was based on privileged access to international networks or resulted from forced migration, we find repeated instances of an engagement in debates on regionalism, the vernacular, the everyday, the folkloric, and the anonymous, as expressions in architecture and planning. Seeing these debates as deeply contingent on the subject’s position, this session seeks precision on a problem that has inhabited the fringes of architectural and planning history: the gendered connections between an extreme mobility (understood as conditioned by specific historical contexts) and a theory of the situated. Thinking with Donna Haraway—in particular, her concern with ‘situated knowledge’ as that which is informed by the subject’s position and does not attempt the abstraction of universalism—this session attempts to map mobility and gender onto one another within a set of practices and visions that focused on structuring, building, historicizing, or thinking the undesigned, the unplanned. We see this in part as stemming from the vision of a stranger, a function of vision from a periphery or a territorially interior margin. As Hilde Heynen has discussed in relation to Sybil Moholy-Nagy, the turn to architecture without architects also shifted claims upon expertise, opening the position of expert to a wider pool. This session takes the epistemological question of what knowledge is produced by transnational mobility, and attempts to move beyond the frequent challenges of the archive and historiography, to suggest certain sites of resistance to a ‘canon’ from which many women have been excluded, as well as to the various borders which define architectural expression, authors, and publics. Bringing the work of women architects and non-architects alike into conversation, we invite papers that consider understudied professional figures such as Sybil Moholy-Nagy, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, Charlotte Perriand, Erica Mann, Jane Drew, Lina Bo Bardi, Minnette de Silva, Hannah Schreckenbach, Dorothy Hughes, Gillian Hopwood, Ursula Olsner, and Denise Scott Brown, or a variety of named and unnamed groups of women—clients, laborers, refugees—whose transnational travels affected the built environment or its history.

Co-chairs: Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi and Rachel Lee

Submissions: Please submit max. 300-word abstracts to iyersiddiqi@gmail.com or rachel.lee@gmx.net

Deadline: 30 September 2017

http://eahn2018conference.ee/

Urban Heritage Activism
Thursday 16 March – Friday 17 March, 09:00-18:00
TU Berlin, Hardenbergstr. 16-18, 10623 Berlin
Register: contact@urbannarratives.org
www.urbannarratives.org

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The two-day Urban Heritage Activism conference will focus on heritage ‘from below’–urban history as it is lived, represented and transformed by local communities in diverse geographies and cultural contexts. Speakers from grassroots movements, academic and cultural institutions will address political ramifications and power struggles related to heritage and introduce the failures and solutions of various activism projects, especially in postcolonial contexts. Contributors will debate contemporary tensions and future strategies for interventions through a roundtable discussion at the end of each day.

In addition to the stimulating conference programme, the Simulizi Mijini / Urban Narratives exhibition Juxtaposing Narratives: Dar es Salaam and Berlin will open at 8pm on Friday 17 March with a cooking performance, live music and a DJ. Walking tours and film screenings will round off the programme of events.

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Speakers and moderators: Erica Abreu, Jully Acuna, Yaşar Adanali, Awami Art Collective, Comfort Badaru, Diane Barbé, Shraddha Bhatawadekar, Vittoria Capresi, Jerome Chou , Rebecca Corey, Gabi Dolff-Bonekämper, Matthias Einhoff, Anne-Katrin Fenk, Zinovia Foka, Susanne Förster, Benjamin Häger, Maj Horn, Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, Sehr Jalil, Leila Javanmardi, Claudia Jürgens, Georg Krajewsky, Rachel Lee, Farah Makki, Sarita Mamseri, Srdjan Mandić, Mansion, Avehi Menon, Philipp Misselwitz, Monika Motylinska, Rishika Mukhopadhyay, Laura Murray, Marcelo Murta, Naira Mushtaq, Cord Pagenstecher, Luise Rellensmann, Ana Luisa Ribeiro, Juliane Richter, Gözde Şarlak, Jona Schwerer, Annika Seifert, Gülsah Stapel, Samaila Suleiman and Mike Terry

Artists: Rehema Chachage, Cloud Chatanda, Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, KUNSTrePUBLIK and Jan van Esch, Umesh Maddanahalli, Michelle Monareng, Patrick Mudekereza, Paul Ndunguru, Nadin Reschke, and Alex Römer

Lou Moon:   Viewing tropical materials, renewable technologies and local community engagement at a coastal resort.  

Ola Uduku Writes:

Climate responsive, tropical architecture using locally sourced materials remains a rarity in West Africa, therefore setting foot at the remote coastal Lou Moon resort was a revelation. At first glance this seemed like yet another ‘safari-architecture’ beach resort on the Ghanaian coastline [20 minutes drive from Axim]. The first view of a dining area with non-local thatch roofing initially suggesting a copy of an aesthetically pleasing safari ‘hang out’ for expatriates and daring local tourists willing to get to this off-the-beaten-track location.

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“Are we nearly there yet?” The track to Lou Moon

On closer inspection and conversation with Lou Moon’s designer and owner Paul Ramlot, it was explained to us that the roofing is not indigenous to Ghana’s coastal communities but was indeed an import from the middle to northern part of Ghana. He had worked with northern Ghanaian thatchers and local craftsmen to ensure the construction of a watertight roof covering. He explained that this had been achieved successfully, and the only problems that had been encountered since it had been completed were with with local bats and grass cutters, that from time to time nest and forage in the thatch. Catching them was tricky  – but sonic deterrents were now being successfully used.

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Architect and owner of Lou Moon, Paul Ramlot with Ola Uduku

After a good lunch from an impressive menu boasting  European – Ghanaian ‘gastro’ cuisine and the option of good French wine (which we declined) we were shown more of the resort. The owner had worked hard to tame the land jutting out to the sea and create a number of secluded chalets, using locally sourced building materials and oriented to allow local ventilation and lighting. Whilst specialist bath fittings were imported, 90 % of the materials were sourced locally and the owner worked  with local craftsmen to develop the accommodation at the resort. This was a textbook demonstration on what is possible but has rarely been achieved in contemporary West Africa.

By working with local craftsmen, and employing local staff at the resort he had also both given employment opportunities in a part of Ghana where there are few such opportunities available. He also had a working arrangement with the ‘chief’ and ultimate owner of the land on which the Lou Moon Resort has been built. A share of the profits is paid to the chief and his community.

Resort chalets had solar photovoltaics incorporated into their design, and wireless communication, and electricity were freely available along with a large satellite dish in clear view. Interestingly on arrival we noted a number of vehicles with diplomatic number plates, possibly the remoteness of the location had in the past made it the perfect retreat, one wonders whether this remains so appealing, now that it is hooked up to the world via its telecommunications systems. Judging by the resident clientele at the resort in the January off peak season this didn’t seem to be the case.

We left musing that it took a Belgian expatriate to rediscover local materials and encourage local design talent in this remote part of Ghana. His design model had been so successful that he was in conversation with local elites to develop a similar resort on private land to reap these benefits. What was his most serious problem we asked him? He responded that it was the noise from the local community at funerals and other festivals…

We hope that a cordial arrangement can be agreed to secure the serenity of this snapshot of tropical architectural paradise. We made ‘design attribution’ peace with the non-local indigenous thatch roofing, we saw no vermin, enjoyed the shade and couldn’t fault its aesthetic contribution to what had been a truly revealing ‘Lou Moon’ experience.

Report from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

Chulalongkorn University occupies an enviable site in Bangkok, spacious tree-lined avenues lead to large parks providing some tranquillity from the city beyond. The University was established in 1917 and the earliest buildings were designed by British architect, Edward Healey in a fusion of Beaux-Arts with Siamese decoration.

Nat Phothiprasat (alumni of Liverpool School of Architecture, BArch in 1929), established the Architecture Faculty in 1930. It relocated to its current location in 1940 and was designed by Lucien Coppé and Siwawong Kunchon na Ayudhya in 1940. Next door to the School of Architecture is the Chemistry Building (now Arts and Cultural Centre), designed c. late 1930s. The architect, Saroj Sukkhayang, (also studied at Liverpool, Dip. Architecture and Civic Design, 1920) had recently returned from a trip to Europe and was eager to implement in Thailand some of the designs he had experienced. Solar shades project above window openings, geometric symmetrical arrangements and the recessed curved entrance void give the building its distinctive character. It is astonishing to see another building designed by the same architect at exactly the same time – but in a completely contrasting style. The Arts Auditorium was an attempt to re-invent Thai architecture using modern materials and techniques, taking familiar motifs and ornamental designs but casting them in concrete rather than carving them in wood. It was also a collaborative design undertaken with master-builder U Laphanon. The rationale for using the concrete ornamentation was to create a more durable building that wouldn’t require the continuous renewal demanded by timber structures. The process of casting however demands that the formwork can be released from the cast and subsequently the ornament appears somewhat flat, and lacking the intricacy associated with timber carving. Concrete also permits longer spans than timber and the result is a larger single form, appearing as if extruded from the gable rather than as a series of hipped roofs and interlocking forms associated with more traditional forms of construction.

The student club house was also designed by Saroj Sukkhayang and Chuea Patthamachinda. Recently renovated and losing its shutters in the process, the building is now sealed and air-conditioned.

A more recent addition to the campus is the Student Union Building designed by Vodhyakarn Varavan and Lert Urasayananda in 1966. A large assembly space with smaller recessed annexes is formed by the spikey louvred gables. Robin Ward describes it unfairly as an ‘Elvis-era resort in Hawaii’ style building – but it is surely more than this. It is a response to the Wat structures coupled with innovative structural and climatic devices, as well as attempting to find a new lexicon for an optimistic university campus.

Close by to the campus at Siam Square is the exquisite Scala Cinema (1967) and well worth visiting, as is the former British Council Building.

Leaving the campus, heading through China Town and over the River we visited the Phra Borommathat Maha Chedi stupa. Built from 1828AD there is a blend of Palladian and local motifs. The temple has been sensitively repaired following a major structural failure and collapse. Just a short walk away is the Santa Cruz church and a small Catholic community that resides in the area. The narrow lanes prevent any motor traffic and the shading of the trees shelter the calm labyrinthine streets below. The community can trace its origins to Portuguese traders and they still bake Portuguese style cakes today. A wonderful museum [Bahn Kudichin Museum] is being created to celebrate this heritage. There are some excellent pencil-rendered measured drawings on display depicting the timber houses from the area (produced by students on the Thai Architecture Programme at Chulalongkorn University). The narrow streets betray the open spaces and gardens that lie within this exciting complex.

This side of the river contains the factories, go-downs and sheds associated with a burgeoning city – and like in many other cities, these frequently dilapidated yet enticing structures attract artists, architects and ‘creatives’. One such development is particularly of note – the Jam Factory. Designed and developed by architect Duangrit Bunnag. Duangrit was kind enough to give us a tour around the Factory which houses two of his restaurants, café, book shop, gallery and design studios.

I made a quick visit to Mahidol University campus too, to see the former Students Union Building and the cosmic brutalist lecture hall designed by Amon Sriwong in 1965.

A few other of my highlights include the Brutalist buildings along the Suriwongse Road, as well as the Neilson Hays Library designed by Mario Tamagno in 1921 and the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, a Dravidian temple used by the south Indian residents of Bangkok from the 19thC onwards.

Many thanks to Professors Pinraj Khanjanusthiti, Saranya Siangarom and Chomchon Fusinpaiboon of Chulalongkorn University for all their generosity and help during my stay in Bangkok.

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Chomchon Fusinpaiboon giving a pre-tour briefing at Chulalongkorn University Faculty of Architecture Library.

 

As part of the Envisioning the Indian City project we have been invited to produce a short set of podcasts for the ‘Realise’ series at Liverpool University. Each podcast is devoted to one of the cities we have been researching [Goa, Pondicherry, Kolkata and Chandigarh] for the past few years in collaboration with Jadavpur University in Kolkata.

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You may listen to us here: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/realise-podcast/ and read more about the project here: https://eticproject.wordpress.com