Category: Art et al

The Friendly Alien of Architecture

The Graz Art Museum is a very splendid out of this world architectural landmark in Graz, Austria. Built as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations in 2003 its exhibition program specializes in contemporary art of the last four decades and where architecture, design, new media, Internet art, film, and photography are united under one roof. Graz also carried the honor of the “City of Design” and is located in the south-east corner of Austria and was largely unvisited and unknown until 2003.

It might look out of place but still manages to blend in with its baroque surroundings and look like some sort of alien mother ship or one that’s about to slip the surly bonds of earth, defying the laws of space and time, ready for launch at any minute. In fact it was the British creators themselves, Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, who dubbed the building as Austria’s “Friendly Alien” but some visitors referred to it’s huge edifice of transparent skin of acrylic glass and steel as looking more like a giant human donor organ. It could also be seen as an enormous blue bubble that looks slightly ridiculous, beautiful and amazing.

Images from Wikimedia Commons

A Forgotten Architect

A Forgotten Architect: champion of the 1930’s Dublin Social Housing

On Friday 1st October 1948, page four of the Irish Times reported the demise of Herbert G. Simms, housing architect of Dublin Corporation. Cause of death – suicide! After the consumption of a bottle of whiskey, Simms had driven to Dún Laoghaire and thrown himself in front of an oncoming train. Although found alive, he died in hospital later that day. The cause – ‘pressure of work’ – confirmed afterwards in a note found on his body. Today, it is possible many are not familiar with the name Simms – an Englishman and son of a London train driver – who studied architecture at Liverpool University, and who would eventually come to work in Ireland. Here, at the beginning of the 1930’s, he was appointed to the newly created post of housing architect of Dublin Corporation. In this capacity, Simms would devote many years of his life to the restoration of a city that was not his.

His legacy – almost every flat complex built under his guidance still stands today – underpins the current City Architects’ credo “work to achieve excellence in the ordinary.” Despite the urgency in the 30’s to create housing for the poor, no members of this class were given an opportunity to become involved in the building of their future accommodation. Indeed, contemporary thinking deemed such people were incapable of expressing any valid opinion in relation to their everyday needs. Even as late as 1937 the Government was still dictating the minutiae of the workings of social housing wherein central heating could not be warranted in flats for the working classes (presumably they did not feel the cold). Even the type of cooker to be used was vetted prior to installation – the working-class apparently consumed more stews than roasts. Whilst this is probably true, were such people never to be permitted to relish the finer points of life or given a chance to improve their lot? Were they not entitled to laundries, open spaces, convenient shopping areas? In this respect, it is most likely any views members of the working class had on the subject were negated by the constraints their ‘betters’ imposed upon them!

However, Simms was determined to create a more acceptable form of living space than the over crowded Dublin tenements the new builds were replacing. To this end, he had, with other Corporation officials, made study trips to Amsterdam and Rotterdam to view the methods used in the construction of blocks of flats in those cities. Places where consideration was given to the needs of the tenants, including the importance of inner courts as a spatial allusion. Accordingly, a high proportion of the work noted by Simms was incorporated into his designs for social housing in areas such as Hanover Street, Henrietta Street, Chancery Place, Townsend Street, Mercer Street and Wading Street. Flats that were visually inspired by the architecture of the Amsterdam School and the work of de Klerk especially, that Simms greatly admired, which may be noted in the accompanying pictures. Given the long duration of the aforementioned Dublin inner city housing schemes, it is lamentable that “pressure of work” deprived the city of additional architecture by Herbert G. Simms. He did nonetheless find time to design the art deco bathing shelters at the The Bull Wall in Clontarf.

Fashion and Art

One thing about fashion trends are that they keep coming and going. What’s in for Spring? What’s in for Summer? What’s in for Fall (or Spring)? What’s in for Winter? I am not sure I am up-to-date with all of the latest fashion trends. I have noticed a lot of people wearing ripped jeans right now. I remember that been around a long time ago. It’s come full circle again. Ripped jeans, seems like some sort of deconstructed fashion manifestation reflecting what’s going on in society. I hope society isn’t really starting to deconstruct. I am okay with other people wearing ripped or mangled jeans, after all fashion is about having a sense of individuality or expressing your individuality through fashion, and you can wear what you like or what you feel comfortable in. When I was younger (cough! not so long ago) I didn’t really want to wear what everyone else was wearing, I didn’t want to be part of the must-wear list of fashion trends. I would mix and match my clothes, add to them in some way or alter a jacket, a shirt or t-shirt. The finished product was something that I was happy with, and perhaps slightly rebelling against the fashion trends and styles of the time. I knew what I was wearing wasn’t going to rock the fashion world and would probably be viewed as more of a wardrobe malfunction – but it was me, and I was comfortable with how I looked and it was my own personal style. I think my style has mellowed down somewhat and is perhaps simpler compared to what it used to be – but just as people change, fashion styles also change. I still like to experiment with some of my clothes from time to time. Occasionally I look around thrift stores or charity shops for bargains on clothes and upscale them, maybe adding a zip or deconstructing them in some way, there’s that word again! or even clothes that I haven’t worn for a long time. Maybe I just like to add an artistic touch to what I wear.

Can fashion even be considered as art? I have often thought about this and I would say yes, it can be. The Oxford Dictionary defines art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”  and I would say that fashion is definitely creative, skillful and it can be very imaginative and can be looked upon as an art form. One of my favorite designers Alexander McQueen managed to combine art, his own imagination, seer of style, mastery of craft and skill to create beautiful designs. He once said that his intention was to “empower women” through his designs and he most certainly achieved thatAlas, I wish that I had been able to buy some of his clothes and even today. Screams! I have always wanted  an Alexander McQueen skull scarf. The Autumn/Winter 2016 women’s wear collection is stunning and designed by Sarah Burton who is now the creative director of the Alexander McQueen label. Of course, there are many other designers, such as the Mother of Punk – Vivienne Westwood, or Iris van Herpen who became the first person to include 3D printed Haute Couture garments in her Biopiracy catwalk show, attempting to change our perceptions and expectations of what fashion is, and her show appeared to transcend from catwalk to performance art to a display in wearable technology. Although Haute Couture is more about one of a kind clothing because of the craftsmanship and usually very expensive and where their mastery of craft meets the skill of the atelier, the result could be seen as an art form but perhaps not a pure art form?

However, how can fashion not be considered as art? or because it’s costume or clothes that it should not even loosely be seen as art. The influence of fashion has been depicted in works of art, such as paintings and sculpture for a very long time. Some might argue that anything outside of sculpture, architecture or painting, for example, cannot be considered as art. Maybe anything these days can be served up as art? and it’s just a matter of good versus bad art, or the interpretation of it.  Through the centuries, both art and fashion have achieved their own metamorphosis and fashion has evolved like some Darwinian evolutionary theory where styles are like traits that have changed over time. In masterpiece paintings sometimes what the person in the painting is wearing takes up to 60% of the painting itself  – like Edouard Manet’s  Parisian Lady – gives a good insight into the style of the fashion and clothing at the time it was painted. It also shows or gives us insight into the culture of that time and leads us to think what it actually means or what does their clothing or costumes symbolize. In some elaborate works of art you can see subjects in paintings with ornately designed costumes who almost look like they are trying to outdo each other in a fashion sense or their costumes are different in accordance with their standing in society or in their culture. What they are wearing in the painting can tell stories to, such as gender, race and identity. From that perspective, fashion has left an indelible imprint on art, and what we might subject the criteria of art to. More importantly fashion has the capability of being served up as art.

Many artists enhanced their reputations by painting well-known people or celebrities of their time and these people also used these artists to advance them in some way also. One particular painting by John Singer Sargent of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) 1883-84 shows her wearing a black gown with shoulder straps, with the right strap of her gown slipping from her shoulder, which emphasis the sexual allure of a married woman. Madame Pierre Gautreau was known in Paris for her artful appearance but the painting of her by Sargent ended up causing scandal. Artists trying to advance their careers by using celebs is not so unfamiliar today, when you see celebrities wearing a dress or outfit at the Oscars and what they’re wearing is almost a bigger part of the Oscars as the awards themselves – with famous designers reputations hinging on a world wide audience as they tune in to watch them arrive, observing the red carpet frocks they’re wearing. Fashion appears to influence not just painting and artists trying to advance their careers but the realm of fashion has influence over lots of other things to.

One thing that is starting to have some influence over fashion is technology. Fashion has already been defined by technology, from the Jaquard Looms to 3D printing and incorporating 3D designs (materials) that are handmade or embroidered by hand. There is a trend in wearable technology such as google glasses and smart watches and fashion will ultimately have to grapple with this sort of technology. As mentioned earlier, dutch designer Iris van Herpen has already used 3D printing (creating three-dimensional solid objects) technology in her clothing and it won’t be much longer before we start to see clothing produced with this kind of technology or that it will become a source of inspiration for new ideas in fashion or fashion-tech.  There are also Photochromic dyes that are already being used in clothing to change the color when exposed to sunlight, and they could be used to change patterns depending on the amount of natural light. Who knows what the future will be for fashion, will code replace the the needle and thread? Will your clothes tell you its time you need to wash them or change to a different color to fit your mood depending on what time of the day it is, or night? Will your smartwatch and smartphone communicate with the clothes you’re wearing? Whatever the potentials are, surely technology will bring about a transformation in fashion. This might not answer the question on whether fashion is an art but art itself is starting to become more elastic in terms of its definition and is helping fashion to be accepted as art. Whether you think that fashion is art or not, fashion will at least, always be one of our basic needs.

Kindred Spirits

What do a fire station and an elaborate Swimming pool have in common with a small white Modernist villa? They were the creations of two women! Firstly, the much lauded Zaha Hadid, born in Baghdad, Iraq and whose untimely death at the age of 65 occurred last month in Miami. Secondly, Eileen Gray born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, died in Paris in 1976 at the ripe old age of 96. Both of these women fought to become recognized as bona fide members of the male dominated profession of architecture. Hadid achieved the status of a modern day “starchitect” and went on to become the first woman, in her own right, to win the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for Architecture in February 2016, prior to gaining the Pritzker Architectural Prize in 2004. Gray, whose nature though reserved and retiring, would finally become acknowledged as an influential designer and architect of the twentieth century.

Hadid’s whole life was focused on her architectural career. Yet in spite of her numerous proposed and conceptualized projects many never came to fruition. Her designs were often cruelly referenced as “expensive, weird-looking buildings”. Those built were eclectic and ranged from the Vitra fire station, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Weil am Rhein, Germany – 1994, Evelyn Grace Academy, Brixton, London – 2008, Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Abu Dhabi, United Emirates – 2010 and Riverside museum, Glasgow – 2011. Gray’s oeuvre consisted of two houses, E-1027 and Tempe à Pailla, Castellar.

In 2012 a striking building with an undulating roof, echoing the flowing water of the river landscape wherein it sits, was built in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, London as an aquatic center for the 2012 Olympics. Today, this much lauded space, albeit in a slightly modified form, is a vibrant “open to all” water sports arena. In contrast, some eighty years earlier in the closing years of the 1930’s (water being a common denominator), a small house is built into the rocky coastline above the Mediterranean, in a then remote area of the Côte d’Azur, at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. However, this was a private build by Gray at the instigation of and for her lover Jean Badovici. Yet both women though architects were also designers. Hadid was a designer of fashion and furniture and a painter, whilst Gray turned to architecture after an early career specializing in lacquer work and decorative arts. Perhaps, or because of, their additional involvement in these “lower elements”. Hadid, throughout her stellar career, fought vigorously against the jealousy and prejudice of her male counterparts. Did she triumph? Of course she did! Yes! She died before her time! But then she did everything ahead of time. “Maybe we were not ready for her arrival – just as none of us were ready for her departure.” As of now, her architectural practice will continue without the founder at its helm!

What of Eileen Gray – she who also dared to be modern and different in her lifetime without courting fame and recognition? E-1027, today viewed as an iconic Modernist space, is newly restored and open to visitors. Nonetheless, this small secluded build, would become an obsession for Le Corbusier – a space he greatly coveted. Did jealousy cause the renowned architect to paint, uninvited, murals on the walls of the house without her permission? An act Gray deemed to be defacement, not only of her building, but also of her person. Maybe fate took a hand, as in 1965 Le Corbusier would die whilst swimming in the waters below E-1027! Recognition came late! Her works are now judged to be on a level with those of Le Corbusier and his early 1920’s male counterparts. Gray’s celebrated ‘Dragon Chair’ would go on to break records for a twentieth century decorative artwork when sold at auction for €21 million in 2009!

At last, poetic ‘justice’ for two multi-talented females who dared to challenge the mores of the preconceived notions prevalent in the world of architecture – AND WIN! Though sadly for Zara Hadid she died before all her projects came to fruition. May her ideas continue to surprise and delight us from beyond the grave!


Feature Photo from StockSnap