Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spatial Agencies (Triple Bill)

Three strategies for the construction of space

Bill Cunningham New York
Rem Koolhaus: A Kind of Architect
Exit Through the Gift Shop

Spatial Agency is a project that presents a new way of looking at how buildings and space can be produced. Moving away from architecture's traditional focus on the look and making of buildings, Spatial Agency proposes a much more expansive field of opportunities in which architects and non-architects can operate. It suggests other ways of doing architecture.

Taking the title of this blog from an influential book: Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture I wondered what links might exists across these three diverse actors who are involved in the process of creating urban environments, and what opportunities exist in considering new ways of constructing space.

Bill Cunningham, from the vantage point of his 29th bicycle, reviews the streets of New York through their fashion. His approach is egalitarian, where he values all fashion, whether it is on the sidewalk or catwalk. His agency is within how he is able to reinterpret the urban environment and represent it through The New York Times. 'Bill Cunningham New York' could in this way be read as an alternative to the city 'New York New York,' where each is in conversation with the other. He also raises questions about the importance of what we observe in relation to what we value. This mirrors the argument, most famously expressed by Jan Gehl, for a shift in the focus of urban design from objects to people, through a shift in mindsets beginning with how we measure spatial environments. Bill states in the film "I don't decide anything, I let the streets speak to me."But not passively, where Bill acts as a curator looking for new themes and stories.

Rem Koolhaus is the most traditional of the three, working for clients and through contractors to realize his grand visions - except Rem argues they are not especially his nor are they visions realized. In this way Rem shares Bill's egalitarianism, observing the importance of all the actors in the conception, design, and construction of architecture, and the necessary mediation that occurs within all these processes. Rem's architecture is itself often listed as egalitarian, described as 'post-critical,' where instead of an agenda, there are rigorously logical diagrams controlling the behaviour of the architecture. Just how rigorous may be revealed (or not) in a forthcoming documentary REM, directed by his son and focusing on the social impact of the architecture. But within this practice of diagram and media also lies a significant part of the power of the architecture produced. It acts as an important part of the construction of space, and Rem's alternative practice AMO dedicates itself to using media, installations, and exhibitions to investigate new architectural practices.

Banksy is aware of how media is the power behind his agency. Through a proliferation of digital cameras and the internet, street art and in particular Banksy have gained an influence far beyond the streets their work is found. In a strange reversal, what was once temporary and illegal is now valuable and collected.

But within all of these agencies, is it the product, the architecture, the image shared across the internet or within the The New York Times that is important, or is it the process? Or are these two aspects in fact inseparable, constantly being written and overwritten, constructed and reconstructed?

But perhaps the inescapable question is in regards to the importance of the celebrity surrounding the protagonists of these films.

All three of these actors share a disinterest in the view of themselves as celebrities, but they approach this aspect of their identity very differently. Bill Cunningham remains incredibly humble, continually ignoring and passing praise on to others, while Rem Koolhaus appears impassive to his profile, yet understands its role and importance in his business. Banksy however is curious about his celebrity, where in the film he explores the absurdity he observes in the cult of celebrity, and in the art world in particular.

The power of the agencies reviewed may therefore be linked to the celebrity and influence of the actors involved, but this does not reduce the significance of each agency. The significance of all three remains in their value of the real, as observed and constructed, on the street.

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