Pure Form

Pure Form 1The relationship between men and stone dates back to the inception of time itself. Whether through a genesis involving a supreme being or as culmination of an unprecedented explosion, one of the first forms was stone. This unpredictable entity that exists in multiple configurations with volumes and voids, patterns and tones so different that it’s hard to find two that are exactly alike has been our livelihood. From the solid shelter of the cave, the first tools of hunters and gatherers, to primitive agricultural equipment, stone has carved a path for human life to flourish. This hard substance became a canvas for prehistoric artists, teachers and authors to pass information from generation to generation, a practice that would become a continuum. These were the pages for the early Sumerian cuneiform tablets, the scroll for the decree of the Rosetta stone and the material that made construction of the pyramids possible.

Adopted and mastered by the Greeks and Romans the Architecture of antiquity then became the exemplary arrangement of this stone and the temple form was created. At this moment purity of stone was lost in architecture.

What stone wanted to be it could be no more, the natural grotto it wanted to create for the early men was to be no more; the dry stone walls built by the Shona of Southern Africa were to be no more; the balancing Boulders of Neolithic ancestors at Stonehenge were to be no more; the unpredictable architecture created by the insufficient technology was to be no more. The era of uniqueness was over.

Like the artists of the Renaissance and the Baroque playing with the boundaries of the orders, or the leaders of the arts and crafts movement rebelling against low quality mass produced products of the industrial revolution; the Pure Form project at Kent School of Architecture ran by sculptor Patrick Crouch follows this patriotism. True to traditional materials and tools, conceiving form from stone and wood, Patrick is bridging the gap between traditional sculpture and modern architecture.

Patrick Crouch at work Source: https://patrickcrouch.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/room-0331.jpg
Patrick Crouch at work
Source: https://patrickcrouch.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/room-0331.jpg

Michelangelo proclaimed that “every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it” ; Mark Antoine Laugier in his polemical essay on architecture argued that architecture ought to divorce the harmonious proportions of antiquities and look towards the structural clarity embodied in mankind first structures.
Such intertwined ideals are the driving force behind the Pure Form project. Open to all ages or to “those who are alive” in the words of the Patrick crouch the programme aims to bring the craftsmanship lost in the materials of modernity. As contemporary skylines become glazed by the structural gymnastics made possible by steel and glass there is no more room for a chisel; so the project recreates an environment such as that experienced by our forefathers during the construction of our great monuments. The process evokes memories, breeds artisans and inspires a revolt towards today’s architecture that is nothing but a silhouette of form behind a curtain wall.

The sounds of traditional tools chipping away at blocks of stone sound like an ancient song in the night but when mixed with the robotic sounds of laser cutters and 3d printers, it creates a unique melody never heard before. Is this the future of architecture encoded in the notes of this new song?

If a digital camera was carved out of stone would it be a priceless work of art or an ephemeral tool for human enjoyment? In a post oil earth, mankind will have revert to nature- the nature such as that of wood and stone.

Pure form classes in action Photo by Themba Ben Mtwazi
Pure form classes in action
Photo by Themba Ben Mtwazi

By Themba Ben Mtwazi

Immersive architecture

Imagine that in front of you stood a door, and I told you that on passing through this door you would be transported 160 million year into the past to the age of dinosaurs, you would say that I have lost my mind wouldn’t you? However, Renzo Piano would disagree with you, and so would I.

I have always been fascinated by immersive experiences, the Eden project in Cornwall being a fine example, and it would seem that one of the aspects which make them so enchanting is their collaboration with superlative architecture and interior design. The Eden project consist of two vast biomes designed using the concept of bio-mimicry which gives them their distinct bubble shape. This focus on bio-mimicry has facilitated a huge saving in weight and cost due to resource efficiency, in fact the resulting superstructure of the biomes weigh less than the air they contain. Because of the lightweight nature of the ETFE membrane used to create the hexagonal panels, the steel frame was therefore smaller meaning that the resulting structure as a whole let more light in. When viewed from the ground, amidst the dense rainforest and humid air, the relative ease in which your mind gets lost in this enchanting world is astonishing. The only reminder of the outside world coming when your eye is drawn upwards by the towering trees to a gap in the canopy which shows a fanciful hexagonal pattern soaring above you, for some reason the Hunger Games springs to mind.

When people ask me what form truly brilliant architecture comes in I tell them that for a piece of architecture to be truly brilliant, the form which it assumes is extraneous, more importantly therefore is a buildings ability to invoke emotion and feeling; something which when done well can have a profoundly personal effect on those who visit it. Which is partly the reason why I believe architects such as Daniel Libeskind have received so much recognition for buildings such as the Jewish museum in Berlin, a building which cannot possibly be understood from its external appearance, but by the ineluctable emotional connection with the buildings interior spaces. In my opinion a utilitarian building designed solely for either financial or practical reasons cannot possibly be classed as architecture, this distinction should be reserved for buildings which are designed with the primary intention of provoking feelings in those who visit them. This is the reason for my appreciation of immersive architecture.

JurassicaSaying this, due for completion in 2021 is what will be the worlds largest immersive Jurassic experience, known as ‘Jurassica’, designed by Renzo Piano. Unlike the Eden project, the environment contained within this space is not a replica of an already existing global ecosystem, but a replica of an ecosystem unfamiliar to the human race, that of the Jurassic period. A huge roof structure will cover a 250,000 cubic metre quarry in Portland England, and beneath this roof will exist a Jurassic world complete with animatronic moving replicas of the fauna from this period, on both land and in water. The location of Jurassica will be ideally located in close proximity to the Jurassic coastline, a place where much of the research and collection of prehistoric fossils currently operates, and will provide a much needed visual aid to assist in the education and experience of this fascinating period of time.

Jurassica 2

The aim of the project is to not only to create the largest Jurassic experience, but to ensure that it is also the most accurate representation of this long lost time. The project has already attracted many distinguished figures in support such as Sir David Attenborough.

Immersive architectural environments can be very easy to achieve on a small scale, it is however far more difficult to achieve on a larger scale. The Eden project is a fine example of how immersive environments can be extremely captivating places to experience because the architectural forms employed are intended to focus our attention on their contents, while producing an external appearance which draws us in. Jurassica certainly seems to tick all of the boxes in this sense, which promises that we may soon be experiencing a truly magnificent immersive space not only because of its educational nature, but also because of it’s fantastic architectural prowess.

I look forward to the day when we can all pass through the door standing in front of us, and immerse ourselves in history.

By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture

Image credit – Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Jurassica 2014 
http://www.jurassica.org/