European Dialogues

01 WAFRecollections from World Architecture Festival (WAF) in Amsterdam (4-6 December 2019) and Freiburg’s “Creative Communities” workshop (28 – 29 November 2019)

Another WAF behind us and we’re happily thinking back on increasingly familiar faces amongst regulars and the deepened friendships that we have been fortunate to make through the Festival.

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World Architecture Festival in Amsterdam

This year, John Marx presented his Burning Man project for The Golden Cage (see our previous blog post) and joined an illustrious panel of judges to select the winner for the best “Use of Colour” Category at the World Architecture Festival Awards.

Fellow judges included Axel Demberger from Eastman and Marcos Rosello of aLL Design.  The jury was chaired by Sir Peter Cook, a Royal Academician and Founder of the celebrated studio Archigram. As the winning scheme, the group of four judges picked Archimatika’s project, “Comfort Town.” It is a vibrant 180 low-rise apartment building development located in Kiev, Ukraine. Archimatika say the project represents the “first daring color solution for a residential neighborhood in the country.”

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World Architecture Festival in Amsterdam

The WAF “World Building of The Year” was selected from the 20 winning completed building category entries and is local to the Festival’s host country: The Netherlands.  A public library in Tilburg, the project is the result of a successful collaboration between Civic Architects, Braaksma & Roos Architectenbureau as well as Inside Outside/ Petra Blaisse.

Called LocHal, the library, a former locomotive hangar dating from 1932, responds to the current interest in an architecture that minimises its environmental impact through the imaginative reuse of existing building stock.  The WAF Awards super jury suggested this in their statement. “This project transformed a significant building which had been planned for demolition. The result has created a physical facility in which a variety of users can meet for a variety of purposes, in this sense the building has become a social condenser.”

The call for architecture to be conducive to social interaction is something that is being increasingly acknowledged and perhaps in the face of the widespread problem of loneliness that is apparent even in the most densely populated urban metropolises.  It is something that we at Form4 Architecture strive to address in our projects through placemaking that has a grassroots approach.

Our Creative Communities Workshop in Freiburg took place just before WAF. It was hosted by Ideal Spaces an ongoing research project that is focussed on how we experience and foster togetherness through architecture and art as well as through our communities.

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Creative Communities Workshop in Freiburg

Interestingly, Ideal Spaces is interested in both  the design of physical spaces conducive to well-being and the idea of a good place. The catalysts and conditions that lead to designing a better environment are at the heart of much of the work Ideal Spaces carry out through exhibitions, artworks, research events and supporting both interdisciplinary and collaborative methods to challenging dystopia. We look forward to building on this further and to our next WAF in Lisbon in 2020.

An Architecture of Inclusion

01 GoldenCageNext month, we’re presenting Golden Cage at the World Architecture Festival in Amsterdam. We designed the pavilion-like sculptural structure for Burning Man. It is rich and lyrical in its symbolism in response to Burning Man’s 2019 theme of Metamorphoses. Five concepts are interwoven to create the central structure, loosely based on Ovid’s tales.

The aim has been to create something expressive of the nature of transformation and its associated mystery and ambiguity.  We welcome the idiosyncrasies afforded by these qualities and believe that they are essential to art and perhaps little understood by contemporary architects. Yet the idiosyncratic, the personal, the extraordinary are what give life meaning and make us human.

10 GoldenCageBurning Man has grown to such an extent over the years that it can be described as a city. Caveat Magister’s book title suggests this clearly: The Scene That Became Cities. A book that suggests that Burning Man addresses something essential that is missing in our lives, something that brings us together, makes us feel compassionate and thus human; and allows us to discover a sense of awe and purpose free of conventional notions of usefulness and success. A way of being that is less about rules and more about shared principles or values. This sort of thinking is at the heart of making a strong and thriving community and it is something architects and designers should be more attuned to – particularly in how they conceive a sense of place.

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We are involved in workshops—through the AIA, at Esalen and internationally—addressing some of these concerns and thinking on the possibilities that come with communities that are envisioned from within. Our question to ourselves is: “What if we built a community based on participatory art and the fundamental principles of Burning Man?”

We’re interested in a range of experience and appreciation that is about inclusion instead of exclusion. As around the world, we are seeing politically and economically increasingly divided communities, we feel the role of culture in bringing people together is vital for our well-being, our sense of belonging. In this way, culture is an important glue that makes us resilient and, yes, more human.

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Improvisations

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In this post we are featuring a few of John Marx’s watercolors and poems from his forthcoming book: ETUDES – The Poetry of Dreams + Other Fragments published by Oro Editions

The works selected for this post focus on the sublime and the notion of origins.

John Marx describes the abstract paintings as “A mad series of dense brushstrokes that compress the emotional energy of painting into one intense burst of unforgiving creativity”, adding that “They represent the other side of our emotional range, the messy paradox of the human condition, of both the darkness and the light that manifest themselves in our inner being.”

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Where You Come from Sets a Tone, 2019

I grew up
in the Midwest,
that vast and transient moment
between two precious coasts

In many ways,
not much happens there.
In those rural areas,
people sustain themselves off the land,
and what little that offers

In its own way,
it is also a profoundly beautiful place,
in the quiet elegance of a simple life
in the deep integrity of the people who live there

This was a place to learn to dream
to seek the world that appeared
so far beyond your grasp

On those gentle plains
the pure will of your imagination
can find the extraordinary
by chasing the tumultuous drama of clouds
that pass over
this slow and persistent landscape

– John Marx

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Origins, 2019

The Midwest
is a setting

where dreams
of faraway places form,

where the land
will live in your heart

and sustain your destiny
in unpredictable ways.

– John Marx

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The Art of the Gift

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Burning Man, at its most elemental level, provides an opportunity to shift various social norms in unexpected and provocative ways.  Is this the basis for a larger cultural shift, or just a capricious indulgence ….?

If we take the point of view that architecture is an art form, it is largely a transactional one, we design on the basis of commissions.  We have clients, whose interests we are obligated to serve, we consider the Public, as our creations can have a large impact on people’s lives. As such, most often we design under numerous constraints, such as budgets, programming, and governmental restrictions ….. things that we can adapt to, but ultimately not control.

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At Burning Man, one of the powerful experiences is that of 70,000 people being self-expressive.  This ranges from the outfits people wear to the 400+ pieces of artwork contributed by teams of artists.  At first it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of this creative output, but that in itself is not the most provocative part of Burning Man. The aspect that profoundly challenges your normal life experience is that everything along this range of offerings is meant as a gift.  Within this context each participant charts the trajectory of their gifting, these gifts might be quite small and heartfelt, or the size of a five-story building.  While often times the gift is in the form of art, the process of gifting is an art form in itself.

04B_AndromedaThis year I was asked to join an art team as Lead Artist. The vision began with Team Leader Brian Poindexter, who was inspired by the Burning Man 2019 Theme Metamorphoses, to start an Art Project exploring the myth of Andromeda and the expansive nature of the night sky. We decided to challenge the classical myth of Andromeda, wherein a young woman is chained to a rock, left to be devoured by a sea monster that was sent by the Gods to punish her mother for the arrogance of proclaiming her daughter’s beauty.  This led ultimately to the project name; Andromeda Reimagined.  Within this new narrative, Andromeda saves herself, with the help of her community. The “rock and chains” have been morphed into a story of her inner journey to find strength and purpose in a world of chaos and absurdity. In the spirit of interactivity, we are asking people to write the names and stories of their female heroes on the inside walls of the structure. Following several reiterations, the final art piece takes the form of a 26 foot-tall, five-sided pyramid.

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Rarely, as architects, do we design and build, using our own resources, with a pure sense of contributing to the vibrancy of our communities, where our imagination is only restrained by the amount of time and resources, we are capable of committing. 05_AndromedaOut of this “blank canvas”, free of normal constraints, we can build our own vibrancy, in the most deeply authentic way possible, with the work of our own hands. This freedom invites us to explore our innermost motivations, to ask ourselves “what would we do?” out in the dust, for one idyllic week, if for no other reason, than to build for the pure joy of gifting an experience to others. Yet, once back from this moment in the desert, the more fundamental question is, ­ “What if even a small part of this sense of gifting came back with us from the Playa?” ….. what a delightful and humane world we might start to create.

This year Burning Man is taking place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada: August 25 – September 2 For more information about Burning Man visit: https://burningman.org/

– John Marx, Chief Artistic Officer at Form4 Architecture

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Watercolour Book in the Works

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By Laura Iloniemi

John Marx’s watercolours, first published in the Architectural Review, are a compelling example of an architect’s way of thinking informing the visual arts. Quiet and subtle, they are nonetheless captivating  works in terms of how they explore notions of a sense of place, of how we inhabit built space and how we experience these phenomena in the core of our being. There is an existential quality to Marx’s paintings rarely found in the medium of watercolour and even something of the psychologically piercing observational quality of artists like De Chirico.

It is fascinating to see connections with such powerful work in Marx’s nine by nine inch watercolours.  Perhaps it helps to be an architect to be as spatially ambitious as Marx is within this modestly sized series of watercolours. Here, he explores a subject matter usually reserved for much bigger works of art and carries this off with the conviction of someone used to starting with a blank sheet of paper and transforming this into a building.

In this sense,  Marx’s watercolours are very much the explorations of an architect, an exploration concerned with an atmosphere created through memory and association and also through our peripheral vision, a seldom appreciated aspect of how we truly experience buildings and places. Too little is made of how painting can explore this type of narrative and meaning. And far too few architects are actively engaged with this medium. Zaha Hadid and Will Alsop have been recent exceptions, while Le Corbusier, the Modernist hero, remains the most celebrated.

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As architects strive to communicate their way of thinking, Marx’s watercolours are an example of a humane approach in terms of conveying emotional meaning in relation to our surroundings. As much of Marx’s subject matter reads as “built landscapes” – heightening the role of the manmade while in balance with the natural world – it offers a message and a sentiment that is perhaps more important than ever to relay to wider audiences. As a method of working, watercolours have an inherent fragility that makes the portrayal of this message all the more poignant.  Marx’s works also celebrate the poetic immediacy ingrained in working with watercolours where the artist’s hand is forever present and a foil to an increasingly virtual world.

In this vein, Marx’s inhabited landscapes point towards an answer to an inquiry poised by Sir John Soane’s Museum Critical Drawing Talk Series, “If drawing once allowed architects to visualise possible futures, might its rebirth point a way towards recapturing architecture’s optimism and agency?”  The optimism of Marx’s watercolours, and also that of his poems to be published in his forthcoming art book, is certainly ingrained in how Marx works as an architect. Their variety reflect the richness he values in the way architecture should be approached. Not as something reductive but as something as widely engaging as possible.

As Marx writes, “We, as architects, and as a culture in general, might benefit from embracing the concept of design value across a much broader spectrum than we currently permit.”   And it is in this very spirit that Marx’s watercolours are an all-important supplement to his architecture, enriching his work and allowing a fruitful cross-pollination of ideas and also emotions to create moments – be they in his watercolours, in his poems or his buildings – that dare to be hopeful.

 The above is an extract from an essay from John Marx’s watercolour book to be published later this year by Oro Editions.

Watch this space for further details.

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Fuelled by WAF and Transitioning from 2018 to 2019

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John Marx talking through Form4 Architecture’s Innovation Curve building located in Palo Alto, California with Sir Peter Cook in the jury

Form4 Architecture recently took part in their 5th World Architecture Festival. This time around it was staged in Amsterdam at the RAI conference centre with the largest number of delegates in attendance that the Festival has welcomed since its inception in 2008.

There were over 400 architects from around the world presenting their work in the 42 different categories for the World Architecture Festival Awards. This alone creates a mesmerizing overview of what is taking place in the profession be it in the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia or Africa. Keynote speakers included David Adjaye, Jeanne Gang, Rem Koolhaas and Li Xiaodong whose presentation of his Liyuan Library on the outskirts of Beijing was one of the highlights of the talks.

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John Marx at the World Architecture Festival Chairing the jury for the “Large Scale Housing” category

Form4’s Co-Founding Principal and Chief Artistic Officer John Marx chaired the jury for the “Large Scale Housing” category won by an extraordinary project in Mathura, India designed by Sanjay Puri Architects. The project is made up of an 800-room complex devoted to young academics. The design skillfully incorporates the idea of a street following the same urban patterns seen in this part of the country.

John Marx also presented Form4’s projects in three different categories including the practice’s recently completed Innovation Curve in Palo Alto in the highly competitive “Use of Colour” category. The jury for this category was chaired by Sir Peter Cook, an English architect who is best known for having been one of the founders of the legendary and avant-grade Archigram studio in the 1960s and for his own imaginative approach to colour in architecture.

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At the World Architecture Festival Gala Dinner in Amsterdam
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This year the World Architecture Festival had stylish interactive screens summarising day’s content at each of their presentation pods

As per usual, in between presentations, talks and the actual awards ceremony at the Beurs van Berlage, there was real buzz of colleagues from across the globe catching up, introducing each other to new friends and acquaintances. All the things that happen in between the official Festival program being what at least half of what WAF is really all about. A place to swap notes on the state of architecture today, be it in San Francisco, London, Valetta, Milan, Dubai, Beijing or Singapore. And of course we saw first-hand what was happening in Amsterdam and were thoroughly impressed by their public infrastructure including the recently opened metro line that transported us effortlessly to the conference centre.

Another highlight at the Festival for us was The Architecture Drawing Prize stand displaying winners of hand-drawn, hybrid and digital categories. We ended our time at WAF sitting as guests at the Architecture Drawing Prize winners’ table and enjoying once again the Festival’s Gala Dinner atmosphere. A great finale to this event and particularly as 2019 will see Form4 focus on ideas around representation and architecture just as we did in the watercolour section of the Architectural Review (AR) monograph published earlier this year; and which was also featured on the AR stand at WAF in Amsterdam.  We were delighted!

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Third in row, “The Absurdity of Beauty” Form4 Architecture’s very own Architectural Review monograph featured at the Festival’s AR stand