'Life Tunnel', Atelier Bow-Wow, Psycho Buildings at the Hayward. Photo: © Stephen White.
As this year’s London Festival of Architecture drew to a close, the buoyant mood of the previous three weeks turned into a last minute scramble to squeeze in work that had been overlooked during the rush for the bold-faced exhibits.
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One such overlooked gem was Kiosk 2008 by Lisbon-based landscape architect Sofia Costelo. The bijoux installation in the plaza adjoining Wallpaper* HQ in Southwark looked, for all the world, like the ubiquitous red telephone booth; but on entering the booth, the visitor was treated to a series of three-minute soundscapes inspired by the sea, desert, forest and lavender fields, with the occasional bloom of water mist and lavender scent for the full sensorial experience. Unexpectedly, the soundscapes, played in a random sequence, made for an experience that was both isolating and curiously addictive.
Kiosk 2008 was Costelo’s attempt to examine our desire to escape into our urban fantasies. “I was inspired by the transporter room in Star Trek and Superman’s telephone booth to explore the idea of entering a box for a rebirth,” she explained, while complaining bitterly (a little ironically) that the installation was marred by the dull roar of the generator that the planning authorities had insisted on rather than the quieter street power source she had wanted.
The extra-terrestrial theme was carried over in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall where scores of curious passers-by were drawn into the H Box’s elongated but compact polygon that was shaped like a retro-spaceship. Inside, the curators screened eight short videos by young filmmakers like Shahryar Nashat and Dora Garcia covering subjects whose theme was nothing less than the human condition. The installation, sponsored by Hermès, was first unveiled last autumn in Paris; it’s designed to be easily disassembled and transported to a different city where four videos will give way to four new additions.
Over at the Hayward, the aptly titled Psycho Buildings was a wildly exuberant reimagination of space. The exhibition covered a range of fantastical subjects from Do Ho Suh’s incredible riff of the Wizard of Oz (a one-fifth version of his Korean home smashing into a period New England mansion) and Cuban duo Los Carpinteros’ Show Room (a room exploding Matrix-like in a frozen spray of concrete blocks, brick and furniture) to Rachel Whiteread’s ethereal village of doll houses at night.
Then it was a quick dash across town to the V&A where Zaha Hadid’s new chandelier made of 16,000 black crystals shimmered over the entrance hall like an obsidian dahlia. And proving again that less is invariably more, Yung Ho Chang transformed the John Madejski Garden into an Arabian-esque fantasy of corridors using just recyclable plastic paving blocks.
We had also been rather looking forward to visiting the Colombia Embassy Project – an exhibition tracking Bogota’s urban transformation – only to discover that it had never opened due to lack of funding.
We had better luck with the Netherlands Embassy Project. Buried away in a cavernous bunker in the University of Westminster was curator Ken Pratt’s edgy examination of how a compact city affects the quality of life of its denizens. Housing projects were transformed into two-storey high sheets of hollowed glass squares; graffiti’s street cred was restyled into lustrously coloured wall art; while a cut-out model of a tower block was (tellingly) populated with gorillas at work, rest and play, a wry confluence of architecture, imaginative chutzpah and social observation.
The end of this year’s architecture celebration was marked by a series of festivities; the Chetwoods’ Clerkenwell Party on the Green on Thursday was headlined by The Blockheads and Hugh Cornwell, the Legendary Voice of The Stranglers, performing on an especially-designed stage by architect Laurie Chetwood himself, while Architecture Rocks on Friday night was the official closing event of the 2008 Festival, rocking on with architects’ bands till late.
Orchestrating a large variety of exhibitions, carefully selected talks and lectures, numerous architectural events, and of course lots of partying, architecture-style, LFA 2008 kept us all very busy for the whole month, and was a sure ticket to lots of fun; we’ve already blocked out our diaries for the next Festival in two years’ time.