Los Angeles-based duo reflects on the architect’s creative role and exhibit space design
The line that separates art and architecture was blurred during the latest instalment of the Displaying Architecture lecture series at the Canadian Centre for Architecture on Thursday night.
During the talk, Anna Neimark and Andrew Atwood—the duo behind the Los Angeles-based architecture firm First Office—explored the concept of a model on display as an exhibit and an architectural exhibit as a theoretical model for something that has yet to be constructed. While presenting a handful of examples of their work, they raised the question of what the architect’s creative role should be when designing exhibit spaces.
Their focus on the way visitors interact with their work and their inexplicable fascination with shades of white paint seemed more fitting of painters than architects. Neimark and Atwood insisted, however, that they do not see themselves as such. Instead, as Neimark said, they look at “the capacity of architecture to contain things artfully.”
Their portfolio—which consists mainly of crisp, white, open spaces—reimagines how architects combine project and practice. Neimark said that as models become “a display of evidence,” the practice of architecture is scaled down, forcing a type of thought that is not taught in schools. In doing so, as architects they are brought further into the construction side of the process—even if it is on a much smaller level, they said.
One example, as the team recalled, was the model for a gallery space they designed, entitled Paranormal Panorama. They used six different shades of white paint to project a landscape onto all four walls of the space, incorporating the room’s existing features—such as electrical outlets and doors—as “characters.” They found that, when constructing the model, the one material that could not be brought down to scale was the paint. This posed a different set of challenges as they highlighted the aforementioned characters.
In another project, …and Pedestals, the white paint became evidence of something else entirely. Layers were created as areas of the gallery space were taped off and painted over. By removing the tape during the last weeks of the exhibit, lines documenting the space’s history were revealed in the slight differences in shades and tones. After the removal of the three pedestals that had occupied the room, visitors were treated to a completely different experience. “It’s about reading something when there is nothing there to read,” said the online description.
This is the type of contradiction that Atwood and Neiman noted repeatedly in their exploration of exhibits as models. The nature of one’s reflection changes when the exhibited piece is right in front of them, said the architects. Sometimes, creating distance by removing the piece allows greater room for thought.
As the architects added, a visitor’s ability to touch and experience a model, whether it is a maquette or a full-sized door frame that the visitor can walk through, will alter their relationship with it. Although a scaled-down representation of space allows for careful observation of details that otherwise might have been overlooked, as the pair agreed during the lecture, “nothing ever happens in these spaces.”
A model that is “too big for a pedestal, but too small for the space,” on the other hand—such as the duo’s “Duchamp Door”—has the ability to encourage a more intimate form of reflection as the viewer can interact with it. However, if haphazardly placed, it could be overlooked as a simple architectural feature of the space rather than an object that can stand on its own.
In playing with those boundaries, Neimark and Atwood have fostered a great understanding of how art fits into real spaces, changing the visitor’s experience with one can of white paint at a time.
If you’re interested in the Canadian Centre for Architecture, you may want to visit The Other Architect, an exhibit that will run there from Oct. 28 to April 10. The exhibit focuses on positioning architecture as a field of intellectual research.