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EDITORIAL

EPIFANIO RECOMMENDS

PERFORMATIVE SPACE: THE LOOSE BOUNDARY OF ARCHITECTURE
Rebecca Jones and Nathalie Pozzi

ARCHITECT STEINER LOOKS INTO FUTURE
Vilen Künnapu

HARRY PYE'S POSTCARD FROM LONDON
Harry Pye

POEMS
Lauri Sommer

FOLKLORE TALES FROM TALLINN
Nato Lumi

TEAM

Performative Space:
the loose boundary of architecture

Architects Rebecca Jones and Nathalie Pozzi met in the Watermill Center in Southampton, Long Island while working with theater designer and artist Robert Wilson. Naturally, a discussion around theater and architecture developed – granting each of them a new understanding of their interests in the field. An initial exchange regarding the work of Marco Casagrande led to the discovery of many other architectural projects that embrace performance in their design. This article is the beginning of their larger research into the concept of “performative architecture.”

“Design follows drama” Marco Casagrande
Washing dishes, watching the sky, making tea, crossing a field, bathing in a lake…

When a mundane act is embraced by architecture, this simple gesture is amplified as a theatrical event and space becomes the fulcrum of a performance. In some cases, the constructed space establishes a stage, and the inhabitant’s rituals become the performed act. In others, the constructed space takes on animus, and the space itself becomes the performer. Within the diversity of architectural performance, one common trait is a heightened experience of space, which occurs through a living and reciprocal performance between dweller and dwelling. When architecture is designed to perform, rituals take on new meaning, filling space with story, and enlightening our daily encounters with designed space.

Casagrande’s Chen House is a farmhouse in a remote, mountain-drenched area of Taiwan prone to typhoons. The building is a porous wooden vessel lifted off the ground. In a storm, water rushes under the floors and winds pass through walls. “The house is not strong or heavy, but weak and flexible. It does not seal off the environment but provides farmers with the shelter they need” (Marco Casagrande). The only rigid element of the bare and unadorned structure is a brick fireplace for making tea. As sun filters through the walls, rain tickles the roof, or storm gusts billow through the building – the act of preparing tea is the performance between the Chen House and its dweller; a fantastical event wrapped in architectural imagery.

In contrast to the dramatic openness and permeability of the Chen House, Hosaka’s Love House is an enclosed, quiet retreat in the dense city of Yokohama, Japan. The house is a series of microscopic stages that magnify minute details of a couple’s daily rituals. Limited space (a 3.3m x 10m footprint) prescribes an intimate relationship with the elements as the main area of the house “is not inside, and is not the outside” (Takeshi Hosaka). Opposite the main area is a two-story wall exposed to the elements, changing color throughout the day, from the yellow light of morning to the blue light of evening. Waking up, bathing, preparing a meal, the couple inhabiting the house become silhouettes juxtaposed against a backdrop of light and colors.

 

Takeshi Hosaka Architects. Love House.
Kanagawa, Jaapan, 2005.
Photo: Masao Nishikawa

Takeshi Hosaka Architects. Love House.
Kanagawa, Jaapan, 2005.
Photos: Nacasa & Partners

1st and 2nd floor plans

   
 
Marco Casagrande, Frank Chen. Chen House. Sanjhih,Taiwan, 2008. Photo: AdDa
   
   
   

The same simplicity of movement and gesture is celebrated by the stark set designs of Robert Wilson, whose signature use of light abstracts and magnifies stories in the space of theater. Life is a spectacle, as in the play Peer Gynt, in which the postures and gestures of the characters, either somberly common or whimsically mythological, become elegant visual icons. The stylized outline of their figures, silhouetted in the light of the theatrical scenery, is a predominant visual motif in the play.

Robert Wilson. Set design of Peer Gynt, 2005.
Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks

   

Similar theatrical language is embodied in the Floating Sauna by Casagrande & Rintala. The diminuitive translucent structure floats in a lake in Norway, poetically rearranging the ceremony of sauna and bathing between enclosed space and open water. The bathers are feted in a vast and remote landscape.

Here, architecture is stage and set, elevating the ritual of its inhabitants to performative event. However, when architecture itself is the performer, the building comes to life in a kind of animus through implied movement.

In Land(e)scape, a project by Casagrande & Rintala, three abandoned barns in the Finnish countryside were placed on wooden legs ten meters high, appearing as though marching south in unison through a rolling meadow. In October 1999 the barns were set on fire by choreographer Reijo Kela, for an audience of locals paying homage to their shrinking countryside, transforming the scenery into a singular theatrical event of light and destruction.

Casagrande & Rintala. Land(e)scape. Savonlinna, Finland, 1999.

Casagrande & Rintala. Floating Sauna.
Rosendahl, Norway, 2002.

   
White Noise White Light, by Boston architects Howeler + Yoon, illustrates a collaborative relationship between space and participant. The project is a field (15m x 15m) of waist high fiber-optic rods that were temporarily installed in a public square for the Athens Olympics in 2004. As pedestrians move through the field, the flexible rods respond with swaying movement, calm blue light, and soft sound. The space is both autonomous and interactive, animated by the participants into a terrain of sight and sense.

Howeler + Yoon. White Noise White Light.
Athens, Greece, 2004.

Literature parallels art and architecture in its exploration of the relationships between people and space, through animism and performance. These spaces often play the role of living characters, as in “L’Écume des Jours” by Boris Vian, in which the apartment shrinks as the sickness of Chloé, its occupant, progresses. “One could no longer enter the dining room, the ceiling nearly met the floor […]. The hallway door no longer opened, only a narrow passage remained leading to the door to Chloe’s room” (LXII).

The building swims, the barns walk, the field sways, the walls breathe…

Whether the architectural performance occurs through the ritual of a bath or the animistic walk of a barn, the inherent meaning from the interaction between dwelling and dweller emerges – heightening the experience and establishing a more direct relationship with space. In ways both subtle and theatrical, architecture sparks an immediate experience of life, even while it reminds us of the simple beauty of boiling water.

Rebecca Jones and Nathalie Pozzi

References:
C-Lab www.clab.fi
Yoon+Howeler www.hyarchitecture.com
Takeshi Hosaka www.hosakatakeshi.com
Robert Wilson www.robertwilson.com