If one rocked up to the first day of the 2011 AIA National Architecture Conference expecting to be eased into proceedings they would have been in for a shock as the conference kicked off with a bang.
Following the regular opening rigmarole and an excellent performance by indigenous musician and composer, William Barton we were quickly into the first session entitled “Things Get Wild” and wild they did get. Following a position statement by Dr Hélène Frichot we were introduced to Francois Roche and Stephanie Lavaux of Paris based studio R&Sie who promptly informed the audience that were not Francois Roche and Stephanie Lavaux but instead two stand-ins.
Whilst Lavaux may have been on stage, this was all the Francois Roche show. Sporting a white woolen cap and what appeared to be dark glasses from my position (it was hard to see with that cap on) the Frenchman took us on ride that blurred the edges between architecture, art, biology and cybernetics. It was truly mind-blowing stuff that often had me scratching my head. It was a full on experience and some of it was a little over my head but enjoyable nonetheless.
Following a position statement from Kerstin Thompson (which disappointingly was a simple presentation on MUMA) was Chilean landscape architect, Teresa Moller and a greater contrast to Roche and Lavaux you couldn’t find. Whilst the Frenchmen were all about being in your face, Moller was all about making the most subtle of interventions into the landscape of her country. For the Chilean it was all about finding what she referred to as a treasure within a site and using that for the basis of her design. What made her work so brilliant was that aforementioned subtleness that made everything she touched a thing of beauty. This was more the kind of thing that I liked.
After lunch the more relaxed pace continued as Spanish architect, Luis Mansilla of Mansilla and Tuñón followed John Wardle. The Spaniard took the audience on a journey through the design process for their MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León) project in León, coincidentally a project which had been brought to my attention a number of years ago by Spanish teacher. Mansilla reminded us that the source of inspiration is not necessarily the most important thing but how that source is transformed into architecture. A thoroughly enjoyable and engaging presentation.
The day finished (for me anyway as I had to miss the final Q&A session) with a session called “Inner Space” and featured one of the conference’s creative directors, Andrew Scott and revered Japanese architect, Fumihiko Maki. Following Scott’s position statement Maki took us on a journey through a collection of his work as he explained to us how the concepts of time and space impacted upon his work. He also talked about the ideas of: Japanese nature and the appreciation of horizontality; a loose whole and distinctive parts; and congregation and solitude which the audience including myself lapped up. The session however ended on a sombre note as Maki broke down went talking about the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan with the audience responding with a rather moving standing ovation.
The first day of Natural Artifice was definitely an eye-opener, hopefully the second day is just as good.