Archipelago: Essays on Architecture for Juhani Pallasmaa
Peter MacKeith (ed)
Helsinki: Rakennustieto/Building Information Ltd, 2006
Before the last three decades he was famous in Finland for courageously representing the new directions that a fresh generation were seeking - in fact, it could be said that in a land deeply overshadowed by the brilliant precedence of Alvar Aalto, he and a small group of colleagues were the closest thing to an opposition to his predominance.
This publication, in which he had no direct involvement (since it was mentored and directed by friends and colleagues to mark his seventieth birthday last year) has been edited by Peter MacKeith, who recently also edited Pallasmaa's own book of essays, entitled Encounters - Architectural Essays, published last year. This new work is a compendium of some 22 essays by contemporary luminaries. An essay by the late Sir Colin St John Wilson RA (architect of the British Library), entitled 'A Letter' is perhaps one of his best ever. The New York architect Steven Holl, with whom Pallasmaa collaborated in the competition win for the city-centre contemporary art gallery Kiasma, contributes an essay describing a shared interest in phenomenology, whch tells much about Pallasmaa's working method in design. What is clear is that combination of egoism and self-modesty which seems to drive successful long-distance running architects has both Wilson and Holl fall within this category.
Architecture in the early years of the twenty-first century has proved to be drastically short of theorists of the kind that wrote and pontificated through the difficult years of the 1960s and 1970s. Certain exceptions, such as Robert Venturi, Kenneth Frampton, Robert Maxwell and the late Colin Rowe eventually, in a myriad blaze of new concepts, enabled that century to find a closure that was not wholly and utterly confusing: the postmodernist ascendancy, short-lived as as it has been, did not entirely distract the multitude .As Steven Holl says in his interview here with MacKeith, 'The culture of architecture (per Pallasmaa) is like holding and protecting a flame, in the balancing act between the commercial realm and the political realm'. Pallasmaa has established a major reputation the world over, as an architect, theorist and above all perhaps as a teacher.
Here not every chapter/contribution actually engages with Pallasmaa's thinking: indeed some authors approach this target obliquely, preferring to pursue their own obsession of the moment. That might be called by some a backhanded compliment: but it adds spice to the final ensemble, not wrong notes for the most part. Ideas are aired which demonstrate preoccupations which Pallasmaa might respect, but which diverge from his own. Most notably and convincingly it remains to Swiss architect Peter Zumthor to grasp the nettle of phenomenology, 'The study of appearances'. Zumthor's descriptions of 'summer freshness' in an Alpine forest carry the same experiential impact as do Pallasmaa's favourite sort of locations - old timber Finnish churches or harbourside boat restaurants - both carry their olfactory sensuality ahead. Zumthor's personal eulogy of 'dreaming' (quite apart from the aboriginal 'dreamtime') corresponds closely to Pallasmaa's quest.
As editor Peter MacKeith has constrained his own long-held enthusiasm for Pallasmaa's thought only with some difficulty. Yet he explores Pallasmaa as a phenomenon per se. How did this person develop from a simple rural childhood in central Finland, to one who, on a year's high school exchange to Minneapolis fazed the locals, this tall Finn who won by stealth a state championship in cross-country skiing: a lofty but reticent student, subtly disarming the opposition at speed.
Later, escaping the internecine ideological conflicts of 1960s Finland, he taught at Addis Ababa University, virtually as a radical poltical exile from his homeland. His return was to direct the new Museum of Finnish Architecture in Helsinki where his scholarly and creative insight oversaw a virtual revolution in the promotion of the newer Finnish architecture on the international stage. Typically, for example, during a brief sojourn in Cranbrook he came across Daniel Libeskind exhibiting his collages, and without a moment's hesitation booked him for Helsinki.
Libeskind in his tribute essay here put his finger on a rare quality which Pallasmaa quietly exudes - a love of humanity which affects all his dealings; rightly now, Libeskind claims that Pallasmaa is the true successor to Aalto's tradition as a humanist architect, more so, something of a mystic. His wisdom allows him to unlock new doors for us all.
For all such reasons, Pallasmaa has the remarkable gift of teaching. His students the world over follow him Pied Piper-wise.
This review cannot be allowed to pass without again mentioning the last and most recent publication of Pallasmaa's essays, Encounters - Architectural Essays, again edited by Peter MacKeith. The two works have to be taken together. But there are more secrets in this one.
That Man from Rio: Celebrating Oscar Niemeyer's Centennial
Considered to be Brazil's most important architect, Oscar Niemeyer (b.1907) is also a major figure in the development of modern architecture internationally. He has become a symbol for his country for many reasons: he designed the national capital, Bras
Museums in the 21st century
The Louisiana Museum in Denmark offers a quiet, liminal space for contemplation, isolated from everyday reality.1 It is a place where a modern, circular white gallery turns to a wooded landscape of sculptures, overlooking The Sound towards Sweden in a symbiotic gesture that renders architecture as art. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Louisiana recently hosted an exhibition that offered a fresh look at emerging trends in museum architecture through the display of a series of international projects by leading architects, as part of a global tour in collaboration with the Art Centre Basel.2
The Architecture of the Last Empire
The past decade has seen a growing interest in the British Indian Empire and its inner social and economic mysteries. But the physical legacy, in architectural terms, still awaits re-assessment. Indeed, while many of the buildings which remain are carefully inhabited and preserved for the most part, others, less domestic in their role, and redolent of imperial power, remain at risk, open to the vagaries and whims of 21st century political and nationalist sentiment.
Phyllis Lambert and the Canadian Centre for Architecture
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Sculptural Architecture in Austria
This masterly exhibition has been organised with the support of, and in co-operation with, the Federal Chancellery of Austria and the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China. It is the brainchild of the architect, Professor Hans Hollein, who curated it from Vienna in liaison with the Director of the National Art Museum of China, Beijing. It represents a long affair between Austria and China on cultural matters, and the Chinese authorities are to be complimented on their perspicacity and understanding for seeing it through. It follows an initial exhibition in Shanghai in 2001, covered by Studio International.