ADS6: Body of Making
2020 has brought the corporeal into sharp focus. Questions related to race, gender, health and environment have been aimed directly at our bodies. We have been asked to reflect on how we are sites of reference, mediators of broader cultural and socio-political issues. How do we as architects respond to these issues? This scrutiny is not new. The relationship between the human body and the building design can be traced from the renaissance to modernity. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, or Le Corbusier’s Modulor, are two of the many examples that examine this correspondence. An exchange that has not only been translated into questions of proportion or representation, but also of process. In ADS6, we have always encouraged a dialogue between the corporeal and theoretical. We ask students to place themselves, at times literally, at the centre of their research. Whether this is through ‘hands on’ material investigations in the workshop, or using film to explore how impressions are recorded. Inevitably, the body has become an integral tool to evaluate our findings. Over time these studies have created a body of their own. This year we want to revisit these themes by analysing how they are mediated within our bodies? Examining how we might build the body of our work, using film and making as critical forms of thinking.
Seeing and making are both tools to understand and reason with the environment around us. If we consider filmmaking as a material process, the resulting footage can be designed in terms of its spatial quality, atmosphere and material presence. This can be a common goal shared with architectural design. But just like a building is never static, a film is never fixed. Both are processes related to time. A building, like a film, is a constantly evolving timepiece. If as architects we want to engage meaningfully with the medium of film, then we have to not only allow our enquiries to consider questions of time, but also move beyond the flat plane and explore relationships within a three-dimensional field. While film theory often associates the film body with surfaces, such as skins and mirrors, we want to challenge this tendency and consider filmmaking and film viewing as a dynamic activity. For ADS6, filmmaking is a spatial practice that examines the film body as a progressive conversation with and in space, sensed and altered as we make and watch it. A shared body that is molded between the maker, viewer and the body of the film as it emerges. The film body is an ‘open body’. This concept of ‘openness’ makes reference to Umberto Eco’s The Open Work, which emphasises reading as a reciprocal process between reader and the text.
The pairing between making and film can generate discussions within an architectural territory that is not yet defined. Both activities share a communication with space that takes place in real time, an exchange between the maker and the material as it develops. On the one hand, you have to put yourself “into a state of intense ignorance and curiosity, and yet see things in advance.” (Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer, 1975.) To be open to this reciprocity we must reject the idea that film is purely ephemeral and materials are ultimately fixed. Films can be experienced as very concrete constructions with visceral physical and material qualities. Materials are as defined by their associations as much as by their physical qualities. How can we set up a dialogue across disciplines to explore how making and film open possibilities for the architectural body?
“A building and a film have much in common. They have to be planned, designed and financed. You have to have a solid structure that supports it like a story carries a film. You have to give it its own style, just like a film needs its own coherent language. You have to make it transparent and inhabitable. A film, too, needs to be lived in, lived with”.— Wim Wenders, On Film, 2001
Architecture and film share the desire to ‘build worlds’ for spectators to inhabit. Just like a building must allow for occupation, a film should invite the viewer to settle into the space of image as it comes into being. What do we, as architects bring to the language of film? Should a film be built like a building? Using your spatial ability we want students to explore the correspondence that can happen between the making of models, objects, spaces and the making of films. Correspondence not as a goal orientated process with an end product as its main objective, but rather the action of making, which is a working with rather than doing to.
As architects it comes naturally to process film material spatially, from the writing of the script to the cutting of the footage. The process is akin to designing. It’s about collation, adjusting parts and pieces. You stick elements together, you join spaces. From the intimacy of detail, to the vastness of a landscape. A tension builds and a structure emerges. To build the body of your film, to construct the atmosphere of a scene or choreograph a sequence, we want you to utilise the same understanding of gravity, materiality or light, as when you would design a space. This often starts inside the camera.
In German, the word ‘Einstellung’ means the perspective through which someone approaches something, psychologically or ethically – the way of attuning yourself and then ‘taking it in’. But ‘Einstellung’ is also a term from photography and film signifying both the ‘take’, as well as how the camera is adjusted in terms of the aperture and exposure by which the camera person ‘takes’ the picture. We present the camera to our work as a tool of enquiry. We record and then evaluate what we see. We use the camera not only for the purposes of documentation, but also as a form of space–making. We accept the camera as another body in the room, defining its territory, with its own needs and desires. We learn to collaborate with this apparatus standing between us and the space we want to capture. The camera is capable of looking forward and backward at the same time. Forwards, as in it ‘shoots the picture’, backwards, as in it records the vision of the photographer. Looking forwards, it sees the subject, and backwards, wish to capture. Simultaneously showing ‘the things’ and ‘the desire’ for them. Architecture can become a performance where film, set-building and curation become tools for you as an architect to claim your position. A way of defying your own ‘body’ of making.
We want our students to consider how to build this body by examining a series of keywords that have been developed in relation to ‘Making’ over the last seven years in ADS6. We invite you to explore pairs of these distinct and diverse themes as structural components for your design development.
Ethics and Image
“If several people are looking at the table at the same moment, no two of them will see exactly the same distribution of colours, because no two can see it from exactly the same point of view, and any change in the point of view makes some change in the way the light is reflected”.— Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, 1912
The things we make and the films we produce originate from an individual view point, but, once presented, become a shared object and perspective. Making requires us to take an ethical standpoint. But is there a truly equitable notion of ethics in the things we make? Are ethical questions independent of aesthetics ones? How do we make what we cannot unmake? To address these difficult questions, we have centred our concerns in materiality and how it can be particular and inclusive in nature. Ultimately, what we endeavour to present is not an ultimate truth, but rather a point of view. The making of an image with a camera essentially requires the same attitude. To film offers the opportunity to determine a position. Every time you set up a shot, you have to think what you want in, but what you want to include is defined by what you choose to keep out. Framing a view, a shot, or an argument, is as much about what you keep in the frame as what you keep out of it.
Lore and Garden
"There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song".—Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution, 1975
"There is a difference between useless and ineffectual, no matter what the dictionary says. All the things which can give ordinary life a turn for the better are useless: affection, laughter, flowers, song, seas, mountains, play, poetry, art, and all. But they are not valueless and not ineffectual either".— David Pye, The Nature & Art of Workmanship, 1968
This turning – or listening – to the natural forces in acquiescence is not a protest, but rather a way to regain control. The ecological equilibrium that we strive to establish in the things we make, the buildings we design, is not just about physical surroundings. Answers cannot be reduced to mechanical solutions, but should be grounded in a social concept of ecology. To critically examine this idea, and understand how it affects where and how we live, work and make, lets us take a straightforward turn. For example, what happens if we shift our perspective to the ‘common knowledge’, or ‘popular wisdom’ of material folklore? A practice that is never exclusively utilitarian, its value lying somewhere else, a combination of labour, workmanship, inspiration and will. How can we generate ideas through an ongoing process of collaboration between materials, the maker, its user and the site? We will study folk culture, not only through its artefacts, which are often misread as explanatory appendages to local traditions, mere props, but also from its material lore, which is rooted in cumulative processes and collective know-how. While this can be miscomprehended as romantic or nostalgic, we see it as a way to look ahead. “Not a return, or even U-turn, but a straightforward ‘turn’”.’
Language and Landscape
"The architect should be designing for variable primary functions and open secondary functions".—Umberto Eco, Function and Sign: The Semiotics of Architecture, 1997
When Italo Calvino introduces the city of Valdrada, "the traveller, arriving, sees two cities: one erect above the lake, and the other reflected, up-side down". (Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972.)
The way we make and design says a lot about us as designers and the products we present to the world. In Umberto Eco’s seminal essay on the language of architecture, ‘Function and Sign: The Semiotics of Architecture’, he argues for designs to have a usefulness other than the one denoted, but also one that is connoted. For Eco, we design with practical needs in mind, but end products invariably reveal their own social-political, cultural-historical context. When looking at landscapes, we ask you to look beyond the surface. Often simply codified as pastoral or productive, these landscapes are also vessels for accumulated multilayered readings. For example physical processes, such as cultivation of land or making of tools, at different scales, can be set against investigations of cultural meaning. So whether we are making something, or investigating a place, research is developed through direct engagement. What does it mean to learn from a place or a material by holding it in your hands, by being there and visiting the actual ground to gather evidence? The production of knowledge is not merely about observation and interpretation, but also the memories of experience, it can be informed by participation. You try things out and see what happens.
Guan Lee is a practicing architect, lecturer and director of Grymsdyke Farm. He undertook his architectural studies at McGill University, Montreal, the Architectural Association, London, and Bartlett School of Architecture, where he completed his PhD on the relationship between architectural craft, making and site. In addition to his extensive experience as an educator, his own practice explores digital fabrication in relation to hands-on building processes in a range of materials, including clay, concrete and plaster.
Clara Kraft Isono is an architect, academic and filmmaker. Since 2013 she has been running ADS6 with Guan Lee and Satoshi Isono. She is director of Kraft Isono, a multidisciplinary film and architecture studio. Currently she is a PhD Fellow at the London Film School were she also completed an MA in filmmaking. She is a fully qualified and registered architect and has been teaching since 2000.
Satoshi Isono is an architect, furniture and interior designer and an associate at the London-based creative design consultancy Universal Design Studio. He studied Furniture and Interior Design in Tokyo before graduating from the Architectural Association, London. During his study, he has been awarded several scholarships, including the Alvin Boyarsky Scholarship, as well as grants from the EU-US Government Fund for research projects in Europe and United States.
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