Two Shows, Similar Messages

Jeffrey Kipnis, the curator of architecture and design for the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, defines a perfect act of architecture as an “innovative design tool, as the articulation of a new direction, or as a creation of consummate artistic merit.” That definition does not necessarily include the completed structure, however.

Kipnis assembled works on paper from five architects—Thom Mayne, Rem Koolhaas, Bernard Tschumi, Peter Eisenman, and Daniel Libeskind—for Perfect Acts of Architecture, now on display at Midtown Manhattan’s AXA Gallery in association with the Museum of Modern Art). The projects were completed between 1972 and 1987, when a weak economy proved resistant to new construction and design philosophies were incubated with paper and ink.

Part art and part unrealized architecture, each project somehow encapsulates the modus operandi that its author rode to fame. Koolhaas’s Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture (1972) captures the then-graduate student’s quickly developing penchants for challenging belief systems and for creating complex relationships in seemingly simple structures.

Tschumi’s technique of cinematically narrating architecture crystallizes in The Manhattan Transcripts (1976-1981). Eisenman’s later deconstructivist work is founded in Transformation Collages (1976), which demonstrates the linguistic structuralist precedent—walls become surfaces, columns become grids.

Such works also fashioned their makers as architectural visionaries. A concurrent exhibit, From Hardware to Softform, at the Frederieke Taylor Gallery in New York City’s West Chelsea, similarly imagines architecture but with progressive technology to illustrate and even modify it. New York-based Dutch designer Winka Dubbeldam, on whose work the show is based, uses the same paper and ink, but adds video projection to the mix.

There’s other technology too. Stand in front of the screen, and suddenly, the house, the Gypsy Trail Residence Dubbeldam is now constructing in upstate New York, transforms before your eyes. Originally, the house’s shape was dictated by the twists and turns of a generative core, a so-called “armature.” In this gallery project, the armature’s twists and turns also change according to interactive sensors embedded in the floor.

In other words, the shape of the house responds to the user’s movements. The user is the architect. The aesthetic and structural parameters are undeniably Dubbeldam’s, but the implications are wider. Digitization is transforming architecture into a highly responsive environment that, with as many authors as users, can be constantly redesigned and re-engineered.

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