Improvisations

88 Abstraction in Black and Red, no.08 1989 10x10

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.”

84 Abstraction in Black and Pale Yellow no.6- 1989 9x9

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

85 Abstraction in Black and Pale Yellow no.7- 1989 10x10

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

90 Abstraction in Black and Pale Yellow, no.10 1989 10x10

Summer Reading II: “Building Enchantment”

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In this second post for our summer reading series “Excerpts from: The Absurdity of Beauty – rebalancing the Modernist narrative”, we wanted to highlight the discourse around poetry and architecture that informed our approach in publishing this monograph with Architectural Review. Conversations around the notion of poetry were critical from the start and developed as we talked to architect and Royal Academician Ian Ritchie about what he would write for the publication. He also introduced us to his friend, architect and writer Richard England, who has dwelled on this topic over many years.

What emerged from our many pleasurable exchanges whilst putting the monograph together was a discourse on how the poetic qualities of architecture are what makes it an art form. They are what enables architecture to have universal appeal and to be emotionally meaningful. These exchanges led to Richard England also writing for the monograph and what followed was his thoughtful essay “Building Enchantment”. In it, England eloquently describes the expressive potential that architecture and poetry share. The devices are, of course, different but their ability to transcend the everyday is the same.

We hope you enjoy the following passages from Richard England’s essay “Building Enchantment” and its foray into the essence of things and perhaps the very things we seek to find when we fall in love with architecture.

“Building Enchantment” by Richard England – Extract:

In attempting to establish a relationship between architecture and poetry, it seems appropriate first of all to investigate the origins and meanings of the two respective disciplines: Architecture derives from the Greek word Arkhitekton, where Arkhi signifies ‘master’ and Tekton ‘building’. Poetry also comes from the Greek Poieses, meaning ‘to make’.  

“Making and building”

From the etymology of the words, it is clear that the two disciplines are involved in a process of making and building, ie, creating. However, the materials and methodologies employed are different; building materials for architecture and words for poetry. Yet both share the aim of enchanting and elevating the human spirit. Architecture and poetry also share the qualities of precision, metrics, structure and rhythm, as essential constituents in both their creative process and manifestation. Also common to both is the play of contrasting opposites: solid and void in architecture, sound and silence in poetry.

Poetry, not unlike architecture, is also about building, building with words and sculpting with sound. It is about the taste of words and the intermittent voids and silences of the pauses; a crossover between sound and silence. One reads not only what is written, but also that which is not written; the words between the lines and the invisible words too; the heard and the unheard, the said and the unsaid. It is how musical and meaningful the poet can make these passages that elevates his or her work from the realm of prose to that of poetry, in the same way that an architect can make a building lift the spirit and enchant its users. It was TS Eliot who said ‘poetry must communicate even before it is understood’. The true poet is the one who casts a web of magic that has the capacity to carry the reader away, just as the true architect caps into his building human emotions to lift the hearts of its users.

Read more at theabsurdityofbeauty.com

Summer Reading I: “Against Notopia”

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This summer we are posting a series of extracts from essays featured in “The Absurdity of Beauty – Rebalancing the Modernist narrative”, our advocacy monograph published with The Architectural Review.  To launch this series of extracts we have chosen an essay by the monograph’s Editor, Catherine Slessor, on the idea of place.

Called “Against Notopia”, Slessor’s essay touches on many of the ideas that recur in different contexts elsewhere in the monograph. Ideas about a growing ambivalence to the legacy of much of what the Modern Movement has achieved in terms of creating a successful, engaging and emotionally meaningful built environment. Ideas about how corporate forces have high-jacked the Modern Movement’s aesthetic whilst leaving behind its ethos. Ideas about how we might better reconnect with the very people whose communities we are designing. Slessor’s often provocative and always perceptive style offers a fresh perspective on these issues and adds a new dimension to the discourse on the notion of ‘nowhere place’ or ‘Notopia’ that has been examined on the pages of Architectural Review in recent years. 

“Against Notopia” by Catherine Slessor – Extract:

“In an age of increased cultural and social homogenisation, the elusive and often contested notion of place has assumed a renewed importance. The current era is dominated by rapacious globalisation, the systematic erosion of difference and the commodification of culture. While representing material advancement and social liberalisation, these forces also invariably involve the destruction of traditional cultures and a disengagement with the past. What is now prized most by the multinational corporations who stalk the globe are universal systems of value-free exchange and profit.

Left to the mercy of market forces, the commercialisation of land has spawned the selfish city, as described in the AR’s recent ‘Notopia’ manifesto as being ‘disfigured by the interests of bankers and stillborn in vision and unable to cope with mass urbanisation … one building next to another does not make a place and many buildings do not make a city’. Notopia is ‘a warning sign that the metropolis as place of exchange dialogue and delight between diverse groups of people is being exterminated. Buildings alone do not support life.’

Architecture’s ambivalent relationship with modern capitalism and its growing dependence on arcane treatises and self-justificatory theories has also resulted in the neglect of a diversity of physical environments that have the potential to deliver empirical inspiration for art and invention. To an extent, architecture has become a marginalised freemasonry, its creative potential reduced to eclectic wrapping paper adorning slabs of dehumanised corporate space planning. From Dallas to Dhaka to Dubai, the outcome of this banal hegemony of the built environment is only too apparent.”

Read more at theabsurdityofbeauty.com

 

WAF Recap 2017

Elbphilarmonie crop

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

Campfire Sketch-2

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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