From Biennale to Bookstand


We wanted to share our Venice Architecture Biennale experiences with you. On May 24th, the Architectural Review Magazine team launched our advocacy monograph “The Absurdity of Beauty – Rebalancing the Modernist narrative” at the Hotel Monaco Grand Canal. The party was a buzzing affair in true Biennale spirit with lots of fellow architects, international media, curators, representatives of cultural organizations and even some Venetians! Too rare to have locals at Biennale events but we were delighted to achieve this and to learn about the stunning reception room’s history from them: Venice’s former casino, recently restored to its former glory, ceiling paintings and all.

As guests sipped on prosecco, spritzers, and Bellinis, Form4’s Founding Design Principal and Chief Artistic Officer, John Marx, gave a speech about how the collaboration with the Architectural Review came about. More on that in our previous blog entry; suffice it to say here that Marx’s thoughts on architects not having to choose between humanity and design resonated in the room. Editorial Director of the Architectural Review, Paul Finch, emphasized the successful creative collaboration with Form4 and how this was essential to craft such a distinct and original publication. A publication that we hope will encourage debate about the legacy of Modernism.

This line of debate is further encouraged at our exhibit “2nd Century Modernism” at Palazzo Mora in Venice. We unveiled our installation there on May 25th as part of a group show – Time, Space, Existence – organized by the Global Arts Affairs Foundation. It was thrilling to see our work displayed in this Venetian setting with ornate timber beamed ceilings and Murano glass chandeliers. As per usual, the Palazzo Mora opening bash was one of the highlights of the Biennale preview days with guests spilling out into the street.

Being involved in the Venice Biennale is an exhilarating experience. Venice speaks to all the senses as both a stage and backdrop to the plethora of engaging events. It is also a great privilege to be showing our work simultaneously in Venice with the world’s leading practitioners including Daniel Libeskind, Odile Decq, Kengo Kuma, and Fumiko Maki at Palazzo Mora. We very much hope you have the opportunity to see our exhibit (closes 25 November 2018) and are pleased that the “The Absurdity of Beauty” is now available on The Architectural Review’s website.

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This week we are celebrating two cultural projects we have worked on over the last year with Architectural Review (AR) Magazine and the Global Art Affairs (GAA) Foundation in Venice.

00A_AR ImagesspreadThis week we are celebrating two cultural projects we have worked on over the last year with Architectural Review (AR) Magazine and the Global Art Affairs (GAA) Foundation in Venice. Both projects, one a publication and the other an exhibition, although different, have risen out of a sense of advocacy at Form4 Architecture.

As a practising architect, John Marx, Form4 Architecture’s Chief Creative Officer, has wanted to engage meaningfully in the discourse and debates that currently both inform and challenge our profession.  He asks difficult questions of himself and colleagues:

When did the public fall out of love with the built environment?
When did our profession polarize so deeply between the pragmatic and the self-indulgent?
When did we begin to neglect the people we pledged to care for?
Is there a place for poetry in architecture?
Is emotional meaning important in architecture?
Can architecture embrace the concept of abundance?

These and other questions have been building up over several years as Marx has been developing the underlying philosophy to address these issues and, as a result, he has instigated these two efforts to share this with the profession and the public at large.

Form4’s AR monograph The Absurdity of Beauty: Rebalancing the Modernist Narrative tackles Marx’s themes through a series of essays by prominent architectural writers including Pierluigi Serraino, Paul Finch, Catherine Slessor, Ian Ritchie, Sam Lubell, Richard England, Jay Merrick and Jeremy Melvin. John Marx has written about the studio’s own journey in finding a balance between the poetic and rational elements of design.  The monograph includes a portfolio of the practice’s work to illustrate this as well as a group of essays looking at recent developments in California.  Form4’s Chief Financial and Operations Officer, Paul Ferro, focuses on Silicon Valley in this section.

The monograph has been edited by Catherine Slessor who says, “The Form4 monograph is conceived not simply as an exploration of the practice’s diverse body of work, but an investigation into‎ how the narrative of Modernism, which shaped design culture for the last century, can be rebalanced to instigate a new and humanly responsive era of architecture and urbanism.”

At GAA’s Venice space in the Palazzo Mora, John Marx’s installation for Form4 Architecture is contributing to the overall theme of exhibitions: Time – Space – Existence.  The practice is focussed on explaining the testing architectural environment that exists today and against what is increasingly considered the mixed legacy of Modernism.  This had led Marx to coin the term “2nd Century Modernism” which is also the name of the studio’s own exhibit.  As the name suggests, there is a desire to make sense of the world through classification. However, the categories used to do this by Marx are original and include: Form; Concept; Technologies; Emotion; and Cultural circumstances. As Form4 observes, Concept and Technology loom large today while Emotional meaning and Culture are on the back foot.  How is it that we got here and what can we do?  Is there a more generous balance to be sought that is engaging and inclusive?

The Absurdity of Beauty: Rebalancing the Modernist Narrative will be launched by the Architectural Review at The Monaco Hotel on the Grand Canal in Venice on 24 May.

Form4 Architecture’s exhibition on 2nd Century Modernism will be at Palazzo Mora from 26 May to 25 November 2018. Palazzo Mora, Strada Nova, 3659, 30121 Venezia



“2nd Century Modernism Exhibition” opens in Venice

4postcardsNext week sees the opening of our exhibition at Palazzo Mora in Venice organized by the Global Art Affairs (GAA) Foundation. The overall theme of the exhibits hosted by GAA is “Space – Time – Existence”.

We are interested in better understanding the challenging architectural environment that exists today and to do this against what is increasingly considered the mixed legacy of Modernism. We are of course no longer Modernists in the way Twentieth Century architects may have perceived themselves. Plurality is inherent to our condition especially with ideas, expertise and images traveling around the world faster than ever thanks to our nearly endless new communication networks.

Yet classification is an inherent part of how we make sense of our world. If we are no longer Modernists what are we?  Architecture manifests itself in a particular Form, embodying a Concept, engaging specific Technologies, producing in the user an Emotion largely determined by Cultural circumstances, ages, and latitudes.  Over time, these five factors have altered their level of significance in the design community. Concept and Technology loom large today while emotional meaning and culture are on the back foot. This in many ways illustrates our current condition of alienation in relation to the public and their lack of affection for Modernism.

Our exhibition analyses how we have got here. What has changed over time?  How once heroic ideals of a “less is more” ethos or “form follows function” one have become just a way to cost cut. Recent plays on these words like “less is less” and “form follows finance” are indicative of this abuse of Modernist reductivist principles.

Yet we like to believe that the future has something different in store for us, so we have coined the notion of 2nd Century Modernism.  We like to think of it as representing a feast of architecture: abundant; diverse; inclusive; vibrant.  We hope that our exhibition in Venice will be a place to reflect how by understanding the recent past we can move towards a better future for architecture. One that is engaging for all and allows for a wider interpretation of how architects can contribute to society.  In this vein the exhibition is about seeking a balance between the linear, logical, verbal thought processes with the three-dimensional, intuitive, visual and creative processes.  We very much hope you have a chance to see our work at Palazzo Mora.

Form4 Architecture’s exhibition on 2nd Century Modernism will coincide with this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale and be open from 26 May to 25 November 2018.

Palazzo Mora, Strada Nova, 3659, 30121 Venezia

For more see:

The Absurdity of Beauty, Rebalancing the Modernist narrative: POETRY


We are delighted to post an extract from the Architectural Review (AR) Monograph “The Absurdity of Beauty, Rebalancing the Modernist narrative – Form4 Architecture”.  Edited by Catherine Slessor, the monograph has been a year-long collaboration between the AR and Form4 Architecture. It has been very much a work of advocacy for the practice, thinking critically on the legacy of Modernism. Something the Magazine does on a monthly basis as it seeks to define a humane, inclusive and contextual approach to contemporary architecture.  Themes touched earlier on this blog by Form4, like emotional meaning, shared purpose and vibrancy, have also played an important part in shaping the editorial content of the new monograph.

About The Architectural Review
AR was founded in 1896 and by the 1930s it was one of the most influential platforms for architecture steering the direction of Modernism with Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto first published in the magazine.  After the Second World War, AR played an important role in raising awareness of “Townscape” (the art of urban design), a subject that has remained close to the magazine.  More recently, “Townscape” was spearheaded by Editor Christine Murray in her bold and effective “Notopia” campaign that was the actual catalyst leading Form4 Architecture to work with AR to produce their latest monograph which tackles many of the issues around the notion of a deteriorating sense of place from a historic, cultural and also Californian perspective.


Here now a taster of the “The Absurdity of Beauty, Rebalancing the Modernist narrative – Form4 Architecture” with an excerpt from an essay by London-based architect and Royal Academician, Ian Ritchie: The Architect as Calligrapher. Ritchie’s beautiful words go to the very essence of Form4 Architecture’s urge to publish the monograph as they remind us of one the very things that is too often forgotten when discussing or, in fact, conceiving architecture: poetry.

Excerpt from The Architect as Calligrapher by Ian Ritchie

“I love words. They lie at the root of human communication and the shared understanding we call culture. As an architect, I also use words as an investigative tool to discover what I am trying to express. This usually takes the form of poetry. I enjoy removing the superficial – the reductive process. The need to critically examine each word and its relationship to the whole poem allows me to convey meaning, significance and emotional qualities with an economy of means similar to the precision needed in architecture.

Notes begin, texts follow and these become the sources for a poem. But why poetry? Why not an essay? The creative act is always personal so I can only conjecture, although the intuitive connections between architecture and poetry are widely recognized.

Structure is fundamental to both, as are other elements of design. We even use the same words to describe the ways we create architectural and poetic pleasure and meaning out of formalized elements: scale, rhythm, balance, proportion, syntax.

Both buildings and poems are essentially compositions of separate elements used to create a whole which exists in both the rational and emotional realms. The poet uses silences and the rhythm of words to create a poem tying the mind’s interior to the outside world. The architect uses light and the rhythm between material and empty space to create a building that mediates between our senses, the spaces we live in and the outside environment.

Poetry is also a means by which I discover the emotional and essential context/idea of a particular architectural project.

The beauty of poems is their capacity to absorb and express emotion, essential to artistic creativity. The design process for me always begins with an idea, and ideas can come from many sources. But they exist as ideas without a clear representation.

My process of thinking accepts that there is a boundary-free flow between my brain and the outside world. This is the essential self through which we respond to internal and external challenges and is derived from the concepts acquired through interaction with our environment and those inherited through our particular DNA. The first preconceptual response consists of melding cognitive knowledge with one’s psychological predilection and imagination, conflating inspiration and creativity, to produce percepts – words and images. Then comes a synthesis and distillation for which process language – ideally poems – is my initial preference. This stage of the design process is personal research.

I then try to capture this distillation visually in the simplest possible way, using

a few brush strokes – a sort of architectural calligraphy. This begins the conceptual stage of the design process, embracing both an aesthetic assessment and a pragmatic analysis. It is also the beginning of the collective architectural process, during which the concept is repeatedly refined and balanced, pragmatically and aesthetically, until the concept’s loose edges are exhausted.”

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The full essay will be available as of 24 May 2018 when the AR – Form4 monograph is launched in Venice as part of this year’s Architecture Biennale preview events. For details please follow this blog or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Inside Silicon Valley

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To those no doubt familiar with the globally pervasive products and services devised in Silicon Valley, the actual environs that all this takes place in is often much less known.  It would be sensible to imagine that these centers of global technology are housed in gleaming campuses that are on the cutting edge of innovative architecture. In reality, what people find when they visit is typically a bland business park type milieu.

At its core, Silicon Valley thrives on unique and pervasive forms of collaboration. This is what has driven such a high rate of change, and creative thinking, from grand intuitive leaps to the writing of the basic code that serves as the foundation of progress – teams working together, inspired by each others’ work.  To harness this collaboration, teams working on projects move and relocate within the office to be together.  This is called “hoteling” and it reflects the real need for flexible workspace.  Much of the open plan office floor accommodation is therefore organized around “benching”: rows of desks with seating creating that can look a bit like a long dining table. In addition to this, there is an increasing number of different types of meeting spaces from the more traditional conference room to huddle spaces for just two or three people to impromptu meeting areas to even covered gardens.

The most important recent influence on Silicon Valley interiors has, however, been the design of hospitality interiors with their often plush furniture and finishes. And so Silicon Valley office reception areas and other amenities resemble ones found in upscale hotels, clubs, and restaurants. Saying that the best-known feature of Silicon Valley offices is perhaps to do with the idea of play at work. Images of slides, skateboard ramps and pinball machines in brightly colored interiors may well come to mind. In a sense, there is a shift towards “Work as Lifestyle”. Silicon Valley is, however, growing up with a palette of deeper, darker paints becoming more prevalent as well as design solutions that pay homage to context.

By developing the office model along these lines, California has succeeded in nurturing an architectural export in convivial workspaces aimed at companies interested in using the latest technology creatively. Silicon Valley has thus given a physical manifestation to working with the very technologies that emerge from California and continue to impact on people’s daily lives all around the world. The next challenge is to introduce the energy and spirit that made for these vibrant tech company interiors into the way the external fabric is thought about in and around Silicon Valley. The first moves on that front are taking place but perhaps by thinking “inside out” something truly remarkable could be achieved.

–John Marx, Chief Artistic Officer at Form4 Architecture

This blog piece is exploring ground to be developed further in the Form4 Architecture AR monograph to be published in May 2018.


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Examples of how the language of hospitality industry’s interior design has influenced that found in Silicon Valley offices over recent years.
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Informal meeting areas with whiteboards or pin-up walls are popular ways for staff to gather and brainstorm.
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An example of how people are wired up around the office working in communal seating areas in the foreground and within a typical huddle space in the background.

All images from Form4 Architecture’s project for Netflix in Los Gatos (Silicon Valley), California, 2006.

WAF Recap 2017

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This was my fourth year coming to the World Architectural Festival.
There is something quite wonderful that starts to happen after the third year,
connections start to solidify into friendships,
your network begins to become a community,
you look forward to seeing people you have grown fond of,
from your fellow architects who you met competing for an award,
to curators from the Venice Biennale,
the critics, the judges,
the ABB rep whose enthusiasm and excitement is so infectious …..
and of course the AR and AJ crew that runs and curates the whole event.

The highlights were spectacular, selected from an overwhelming cacophony of options, far, far too many temptations, to experience everything:

Louisa Hutton talking so thoughtfully about placemaking and the vitality of an Urban Fabric.

Charles Jencks and Pierre de Meuron switching it up,
with Charles recalling that Corbu declared the Paris Opera …. “the symbol of death”, of the excesses of empty ornament, the end of an era
and Pierre de Meuron waxing poetic about how we all gather around the campfire, as an ancient human ritual ….
this leading so nicely to Kim Cook’s talk the next evening,
about one the world’s grandest fire rituals … Burning Man.

For me personally, it was a pleasure of pure exhaustion, judging, speaking, presenting two projects, but the most invigorating were all sorts of deep and provocative conversations with my peers…..
which I will cherish until next year,
in Amsterdam.

–John Marx, Chief Artistic Officer at Form4 Architecture
#WAF2017 @worldarchfest @burningman

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Why Architects should pay attention to Burning Man…

BM17 IMG_3077 cropped.jpgAs architects we (and I am hoping this includes most of us here) strive to create buildings and cities that have a high degree of vibrancy, authenticity, and a strong sense of community. We desire an engaged population that not only loves their environment, but also participates in its creation, and in its ongoing evolution. The extension of which means they feel responsible for its maintenance and improvement and are inspired and empowered to infuse it with their cultural and artistic energy. They create traditions and rituals which carry this collective effort forward to successive generations. Ideally, this vibrancy extends across the full range of socio-economic strata, so that everyone participates and enjoys these benefits.

If they are successful, they will extend this caring sense of community beyond the physical environment, towards caring for each other’s well being, because they sense how each of us contributes to the success of our communities.

As architects, we contribute the physical structures that contain the workings of humanity, but more importantly, we contribute our own creativity and imagination to imbue emotional meaning, which in turn adds to the energy and excitement of the community.

This is our goal set, a lofty and noble dream.
When we broadly look at what gets built by architects, we can sometimes fall short of these objectives.

Burning Man, on the other hand, succeeds.
For one week, a city of 70,000 people organically forms in the desert.
For one week, 70,000 people create a community that creates vibrancy, authenticity, participation, and a deep caring, all of the things we strive for …. at a level of intensity that is frankly “off the charts”.

There are many misconceptions about Burning Man, as to why people go and what they do there. From my personal experience, Burning Man serves to teach us about “Community and Kindness, thru Participatory Art”. On one extreme, some people come to party, to play, to be self-indulgent.  Even these people come away changed from the experience of a strong caring community based on kindness. They come away inspired by the vast range of self-expression, be it Playa Art, Art Cars, Theme Camps, Dance Camps or people’s creative outfits.

Burning Man is not a laboratory to simply “understand placemaking”, it is not an “architecturally” rich environment in the normative formal sense we use in our profession, but in spite of this, and in some ways because of this, a city of 70,000 people build their own vibrancy, in the most deeply authentic way possible, with the work of their own hands ……. if we ignore this, if we don’t take an opportunity to study what makes this work and thrive, we may find ourselves to be irrelevant to the people we pledged to serve.

–John Marx, Chief Artistic Officer at Form4 Architecture


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