Friday, 7 December 2012

Coloured Poetics: Hélio Oiticica’s Magic Square No.5

An original text for Saturated Space by Time Out Art Critic Florence Woodfield. Through the essay, an exploration is traversed of Hélio Oiticica's installation 'Magic Square No.5' as a non-object, a test case in colour as structure, and key agent in the formation of experience, pleasure, delight and surprise...

Please click here, or on the link below for the text...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Colour of the Internet

^"Casino" Andreas Angelidakis. Image and animation Andreas Angelidakis, Sotiris Vasiliou

Years ago, even decades, I wrote a text called “Beige Architecture”. It was inspired by a construction trend in Athens, where small businesses housed in unfinished concrete frames would cover up the non-business part of the building with a dense beige plastic pergola thing, to make it appear more official. So with the beige pergola, the crappy little building would acquire an air of minimalism, in the form of a beige intention. In those days, business people such as insurance salesmen and wannabe CEOs of the neighborhood supermarket would also dress in beige suits, a sort of post-80's Armani fashion fallout, the poor mans' power-suit. Clearly there was a beige connection there, and the text followed that path in a sort of amusingly melancholic beige dérive. Towards the epilogue of that text, I stumbled upon another fact of the times: computers were beige too, as well as plastic. They also breathed through dense little pergolas of their own, or I guess we could call them grilles? Ventilation apertures? Something. 

It quickly became clear that these poor buildings in Athens were either trying to look corporate, or else they were desperately trying to pass as desktop computers. And those relationships pretty much summarized what interests me in architecture. How to understand the financial landscape, and how to live on the screen. And Athens was a city being slowly saturated with beige. 

If I think of spaces being saturated with colour, or just information, the space that comes to mind is the screens through which we access our internet. We have friends and work and music and movies and gossip and philosophy. We shop and troll and flirt, we are online all the time. And what colour does all this hyper-saturated activity take place in? Could we define the colour of the internet? 

Certainly, it is not beige, because the internet is home to everything un-corporate, and I don't think I've seen a beige computer since the late 90's when they all turned black and anthracite and gun metal grey and silver aluminum. Silver aluminum, is that even a colour? Suits have turned black too, it seems to be the defining colour of business, together with the myriad shades of grey and greige and bleige and every other convenient, matchy matchy colour one can imagine. Athens has certainly turned black in the past few years too, though that black is radically different from the black of business. In fact it is the nemesis of business black; it is the black that comes out when you burn down a business. It is the colour of the misguided attempt to resist the absurdist landscape of financial capitalism. One could even go as far as saying that it is the colour of stupidity, because obviously the only way to fight the system of crisis capitalism is with cleverer capitalism. Might that be the internet? Duh 

It’s hard to say what the colour of internet capitalism is. Immediately I think white with accents of Blue-Red-Yellow-Blue-Green-Red, strictly in that sequence. But lately I'm not even sure that that is a very clever internet, all their much-hyped products seem to be sun-setting already (I'm talking about Google by the way). 

So if it's not White+Blue-Red-Yellow-Blue-Green-Red, might it just be blue? Blue as in Facebook? Blue as in Twitter? Blue as in Tumblr? Dropbox? Dropmark? WeTransfer indeed. 

Blue could not possibly be the colour of the internet, though it is a strong internet branding brick. I guess colour theorists talk about how blue is reassuring and blue is hopeful and blue is positive, proactive, fresh, new, especially as it seems the logo monkeys' current favorite, or at least most convenient, matchy matchy shade at the moment. And that perhaps explains why I was never interested in pinterest: because it's logo is not blue. 

But the internet is certainly not wrapped in Blue, it is hardly saturated by it. How can one define what colour the internet is? And in any case shouldn’t we be wondering what colour the post-internet is instead? 

Post-internet was a term used last year for a random exhibition of artists using the internet as their studio, their canvas, their playground. I think it took place in East London, though I do not remember the specifics, or maybe I never even knew. The term stuck like fresh chewing gum on a brand new pair of plimsols, and it does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Post-internet came to signify all that is new in contemporary art today. It is the art that will replace the art that is no longer contemporary, it is the art that will survive the eternal postmodern present we have been drifting through for a while now. No tomorrow, no new, no yesterday, every piece of information seems to only exist in our perfect present, but perhaps the post-internet clique can begin to suggest tomorrows that are not related to new or to time, tomorrows that are strictly mental. Copyright free 18th century engravings, and ads for mobile phones, and last weeks' new architectural project all of which seem to simultaneously inhabit the eternal present that is the internet. The art in question tries to define ways to deal with this, in a funny and melancholic and ironic and even honest way. And where to look for colour if not in art? Branding and capitalism in general of course, but this art is born out of that anyway, it is indigenous to the landscape of financial abstraction. 

Looking at Post-internet art, in the work of people like Travess Smalley, Angelo Plessas, Rafael Rozendaal, Lucky PDF and Bubblebyte, even Amalia Ulman or Georges Jacotey, I see a blur of colours, a rainbow haze of pearly tones (Smalley, PDF, Bubblebyte), and crash of unintelligible patterns combined with the strictness of total black and white (Plessas), I see gradients of mauve to jello pink and grassy vector greens (Rozendaal). I see harsh advertisement tones in the work of Katja Novitskova, and apple-friendly abstractions in JunkJet magazine, I see more “realistic” harshness in DIS Magazine. Those are the colours of corporate seduction and radical resistance, of soothing advertisements and propaganda posters, all mixed into one eternal colour-saturated rainbow of the screen. 

All these colors tend to exist inside websites based on existing templates, downloaded for free on tumblr or exchanged with a little piece of code. Our private lives on the internet exist inside templates too, think of the facebook timeline, the twitter feed, the gmail layout. Think of your banks user interface, think of CNN or Al Jazeera, think of Alas, template is the colour of the internet.

Exclusively for Saturated Space: A post by Andreas Angelidakis 

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Power of Red

^A Himba woman, Mbapaa, and some of her children, nieces and nephews, standing before her father (Katere)'s homestead. (13 May 2009, Jescapism) source

Exclusively for Saturated Space: Mark Jarzombek, Professor of History and Theory of Architecture, and Associate Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT, writes for Saturated Space about the vital and potent role earth colours played in the very tangible relationships that First Society peoples cultivated between the spirit world, the afterlife, and the everyday. Please click here, or on the link below for the text...

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Colour and Meaning in the Ancient World

^Detail of the painted Prima Porta statue of Augustus source

Exclusively for Saturated Space: Please click on the link below for an original text written for Saturated Space by Professor Mark Bradley, Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Nottingham and author of Colour and Meaning in Ancient Rome. The article delves into the complex and varying relationship between language, culture and colour in different societies, and from different perspectives, from ancient Greece to Umberto Eco, via William Gladstone.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Louisa Hutton on the Brandhorst Museum

Exclusively for Saturated Space: Louisa Hutton gives a talk at Saturated Space's 'Science, Perception and Practice' event, taking us through the design and development of Sauerbruch Hutton's seminal piece of Polychromatic Urbanism, the Brandhorst Museum in Munich.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Dialects of Colour

^Staircase in Le Corbusier's Weißenhof Estate House, Stuttgart

Please click on the link below for a text by Lucy Moroney arguing for a more nuanced approach to the relationship between colour and the perception of space and form. Moroney brings together Wittgenstein's linguistic analyses of colour concepts, with Oliver Sacks' case study of a painter who had become colour blind, and a complex double analysis of one project by Le Corbusier, and one by Jim Stirling, to approach the topic with fresh eyes. Following description by Moroney:

How can colour become a constructor of space? By challenging the notion of colour being more than a simple reduction of tones equating to a psychological reaction. How do we distil the notion of an intangible, dynamic system of physicality and perception? Rather than looking at how light can create colour, perhaps we can view colour as a device to distort and construct. 

I set out to examine and contrast James Stirling’s B.Braun Factory in Melsungen, Germany to Le Corbusier’s house interior in the Weißenhof Estate, Stuttgart. These two figures have a wildly different approach to the use of colour. Le Corbusier treats his interior space as a painting composition, which can be broken down to an image and reapplied to space, whereas Stirling’s application of colour becomes a way to systematise the workings of a factory, and has incidentally become something more. The strong tones of the building contrast with the surrounding colours, the building consequently visually recedes into the landscape. Each begins to give us clues in how we can start to manifest colour as a spatial language.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Saturated People in Desaturated Spaces : Desaturated People in Saturated Spaces

An illustration and text for Saturated Space by Renzo Campisi, Architect and Illustrator:

Architects design spaces and they choose colours for these spaces. Colours are chosen to guide you while you are experiencing the architecture; they are chosen to make you relaxed or excited or focused or happy or to make the spaces wider, taller, grander, warmer, more homey, posher, political or just recognizable.

But it often seems that there isn’t enough thought about those spaces which are filled with people and their colours. Most of the time people are just the numbers which we shape our areas for. For much less of the time, they are colours which inspire us, and in turn inspire the spaces we design. People and colours are woven so tightly together that thinking about the one without the other can only mean something is missing.

Shouldn’t a school designed in the UK be different from a school designed in Italy, not only because of weather and orientation, urban fabric and location, but also because of its students’ uniforms? How do their spaces respond to the fact that in the UK, the students inhabiting the classrooms will be wearing uniforms (one singular, or binary of colours) while in Italy uniforms are not used at all (a patchwork quilt of colours)? Shouldn’t the foyer of a big office building be primed and ready to welcome and respond to the hordes of men wearing black, grey, blue suits and women wearing pastel colours?

Architecture should and does guide people with colours, and amaze them; but its role need not be restricted to this: it can respond, intimately, to the colours people bring with them.

In our profession we have been talking a lot about a flexible architecture, able to respond to different needs from time to time and place to place. Does this flexibility include colour? What about an architecture able to come into contact with the people who are experiencing the space at that moment, an architecture which responds with measured balance, contrasts, calibrated emphasis, and which never fails to over or under saturate in complementarity to and with its occupants, and the colours they bring with them?

That would definitely amaze.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Brian Hatton On Colour In Architecture

^Walls in Mies Van Der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion

Brian Hatton, talking at our third event 'Reflections and Refractions' at Aid & Abet in Cambridge, takes us on a historical and theoretical ride through time on the nature of the use of colour, pictorial depth, and mimesis in Architecture. From Giotto's Scrovegni chapel in Padua, through Rubens' tableaux, Adolf Loos' monumental Villa Karma interiors and Mies' Villa Tugendhat and Barcelona pavilion, he lays out the unique, complex and rather privileged position that colour has in relationship to architectural space and the construction of defined, 'tectonic' compositions.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Colour Strategies in Nature

Please click on the link below for a text by Francesca Cremasco on on the utilisation of colour in camouflage and other tactics from the natural world, and how such techniques could be drawn upon in the artifice of the built environment...

"The Natural world is our first and foremost reference regarding the most fundamental uses of colour. Through its deployments, nature has taught us to reproduce and develop new colours, and given us new abilities and techniques for transforming and building a range of novel and responsive human environments.

Mimetic processes are complex phenomena of environment adaptation, and constitute the main utilization of colour in the animal world. In this text are analyzed the foundational aspects of visual camouflage,  from functions that synergistically connect various elements (colours, forms, motion, context, etc.) in space, to techniques and tactics of visual camouflage. These phenomena involve environment adaptation, communication, relations between subjects and surrounding elements, all of which are key concepts in a complex system that implicitly suggests new perspectives on our own built environment.

The text concludes with some explicit suggestions about the possible further migration of functions and techniques between the natural and built environment, that may aid the redesigning and re-thinking of man’s artificial environment.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Powerful Colours

^Fig1 The White House, Washington DC

Let’s admit it, architects are suspicious—if not a little scared—of colour. How else to explain the default contemporary architect’s preference for exposed finishes such as concrete, brick, COR-TEN steel, stone, and wood? Perhaps this is because an architect’s choice of applied colour may often seem one of the most subjective—and hence least defensible—decisions to be made over the course of a project.* Indeed, applied colour seldom performs from a technical standpoint, and it is the architect’s taste, pure and simple, which is often on the line whenever a specific colour is proposed to the client. Or perhaps architects’ mistrust of applied colour owes something to the profession’s well-known controlling tendencies and the fact that colour is one of the most mutable aspects of a building; better, we architects are instructed, to focus on “important” and “architectural” decisions such as form, space, materials, program, and organization. Indeed, it is far easier for a future owner to repaint a wall than it is to move it.

Nevertheless, the power of paint cannot be ignored. In fact, under the right circumstances architectural color can prove strikingly effective, trumping architectural style and form in its ability to communicate through clear and simple terms. This phenomenon is demonstrated by three official residences of heads of state: the White House in Washington, D.C, the Pink House (La Casa Rosada) in Buenos Aires, and the Blue House (Cheongwadae) in Seoul—three iconic projects popularly defined far more by their exterior color than by any formal or stylistic architectural characteristics.

The oldest and probably best-known example of these is America’s White House (Figure 1). Initially completed in 1800 following a revolution that cast off British colonial rule, the White House was originally referred to in more grandly descriptive terms as the “President’s Palace,” “Presidential Mansion,” “Executive Mansion,” and “President’s House,” though by 1811 the public had begun to refer to the building by its distinctive exterior paint finish, a white mixture of lime, rice glue, casein, and lead over a sandstone façade. In 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt had “White House—Washington” engraved on the President’s stationery, thus making the name official.

There are at least two prevailing explanations for the choice of white paint, one with overt political and symbolic overtones and the other focusing on technical performance. The former claims that after the 1814 burning of Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812 and the subsequent repair and completion of the White House, the gray President’s house was painted white to mask—and, presumably, to erase the memory of—fire damage caused by British troops. While the inherent themes of erasure and renewal are no doubt appealing, this story is little more than a myth as the building had been referred to in writing before the war as the “White House”.

The performative explanation, on the other hand, is that the White House was given its distinctive exterior whitewash in 1798 to protect the sandstone façade from winter freezing. While perhaps more likely from a chronological standpoint, this explanation remains somewhat unsatisfying in its framing of the choice of colour as a purely technical decision. Perhaps a third hybrid explanation is therefore worth considering. In the late 18th century the polychromy of ancient Greek and Roman architecture was not yet widely known, and Classical architecture was imagined to have been marked by a platonic whiteness. In post-Revolution America at the birth of a new Republic that modeled itself on Classical Rome and Greece, white buildings would have carried a particularly potent associative power. Thus, if the sandstone President’s house had to be painted to protect its exterior—and even if it didn’t—what better choice of colour than white?

^Fig2, Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires

Competing symbolic and technical explanations for the choice of paint accompany another famous executive residence, Argentina’s Pink House (Figure 2). Today, the Pink House serves as the official executive mansion and office of Argentina’s President, though the President typically lives elsewhere. As a building, the Pink House’s history is a complicated one, with origins going back to a fortification built during the colonial period. The fortification was largely demolished and replaced by a Customs House by the mid-19th century, which was in turn adopted as the Government House and Presidential offices by President Bartolomé Mitre in the 1860s. Under Mitre’s successor, Domingo Sarmiento, the building’s exterior was significantly modified and painted pink, and a grand central Post Office was built next door. The new Post Office so overshadowed the older Government House, however, that in the 1880s President Julio Roca had the latter redesigned and rebuilt to match the former in appearance and scale. These two buildings were joined together in 1898 by a central arch and the whole collection was again painted pink to match the original Government House.

As with the White House, the stories for why President Sarmiento—an advocate of democracy in a nation with a recent history of colonial and autocratic rule—originally had the former Customs House painted pink fall into two categories, political/symbolic and technical. Perhaps the most appealing though likely apocryphal version is the political one, that pink paint was chosen by Sarmiento to symbolically unify Argentina’s two competing political factions at the time, whose colors were respectively red and white. The somewhat less appealing technical explanation is that the original paint mixture contained ox blood to improve durability. Ultimately, it is difficult to say what the true reason was for the choice of colour. However, perhaps any explanation matters less than the fact that when the later President Roca significantly redesigned and expanded the executive residence and offices in the 1880s, so iconic had been the initial selection of pink that the entire new building was painted the same colour.

^Fig3, Blue House, Seoul

Probably one of the least well-known of these projects is the Blue House, a collection of buildings which comprise the headquarters for South Korea’s executive branch and official Presidential residence (Figure 3). The site of the Blue House has been associated with Korea’s leaders since at least the 10th century, and by the 14th century it had become the rear garden of the Royal Palace (Gyeongbokgung). Most of the historic Palace buildings were demolished during the Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th century, and in 1939 the Japanese built a residence and office for the colonial Governor-General on the site of rear garden, named the “Presidential Residence” (Gyeongmudae).

Following the Second World War and Korean liberation, President Syngman Rhee of the new Republic of Korea adopted the Presidential Residence as his official executive residence and office. With the ouster of the autocratic Rhee and establishment of a more democratic government in 1960, however, the newly-elected President Yun Bo-seon changed the name of the Presidential complex to Cheongwadae—“pavilion of blue tiles” or simply “the blue house”—in reference to the 150,000 traditional azure tiles covering the roof of one of the few existing pre-Japanese buildings on-site. This constituted an official effort to disassociate the President’s offices and residence from both the era of Japanese colonial rule and the autocratic Rhee regime. Like the American and Argentine precedents, this anecdote demonstrates colour’s ability to neutralize power associations and to strive for more general, enduring associations, in the Korean case even transcending any particular party or form of government.

Unlike the White House or the Pink House however, the Blue Houses’s eponymous roof—a hallmark feature of traditional Korean architecture—had long been in existence without warranting public notice or name. It would appear the Blue House therefore illustrates a different association between color and architectural identity when compared to the White House or Pink House, which both gradually acquired popular and later official names in response to their bold colors, as in the Korean example the name was officially constructed. Could it be that by the mid-20th century a new convention had emerged for naming executive residences?

^Fig4, White House In Various Colours, The Iconic Potency of Pigment

In any event, the three case studies above demonstrate colour’s ability to communicate at a level more basic and universal than architectural form or style. Nevertheless, a certain anxiety still accompanies the painting of buildings. In the case of the White House and Pink House, this anxiety manifests itself in the need to either retroactively explain and justify the choice of color through a symbolic/political story or a seemingly rational technical requirement, neither of which can alone satisfactorily and fully answer the question. Interestingly, in the case of the Blue House any reason for the initial choice of color seems largely unimportant, and instead it is the decision to associate the executive office with a colour in the first place that is the issue. It is also worth noting that all three executive residences acquired their identities—and popular names derived from these identities—during periods of strongly democratic leadership. In the case of the United States this occurred following a war for liberation and the emergence of a new nation. In the case of both Argentina and South Korea, this coincided with the rise of democracy-leaning leaders following successive periods of colonial and autocratic rule. In all three cases, there was a need to clear the slate and start anew, and in a new democracy without the unifying symbolism and trappings of a single monarch, party, or religion, it would seem that color itself assumes a particular potency. Given the demonstrated ability of colour to supplant architectural form as a communicator of power, perhaps architects are right to fear the paintbrush. However, by doing so they relinquish an effective yet simple tool. After all, what better way to establish a new order than by quite literally painting (or re-painting) the house?

* In this sense, for contemporary architects applied colour oftentimes falls under a similar category as ornament, incompatible with a design approach that equates structural and material expression (or “honesty”) with morality.

Post by Jacob Reidel, Architect and Editor of CLOG Magazine

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Musical Voids

^Coin Street Mural, by Antoni Malinowski

Please click the link below for an exclusive text for Saturated Space by Antoni Malinowski, a veritable manifesto on the relationship between pigments, light, line, language and place in his body of work, and in the wider culture of fine art.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Saturated Space 3: Reflections & Refractions

^Spectral Flip, Site Specific Installation by Antoni Malinowski

Thanks to everyone who came to our third event, at and in association with Aid & Abet Cambridge.

Yana Sistovani spoke about the Pre-Socratic atomic theory of colour perception, Ivana Wingham about the physicality of coloured light in relation to Architecture, Brian Hatton about the multiple meanings and uses of coloured material in space from Giotto to Mies' Villa Tugenthat, Antoni Malinowski discussed his site-specific, spatially interactive piece 'Spectral Flip' (see top), and Adam Nathaniel Furman introduced the Cluster, its current state, and future plans.

After the two and a half hours of lectures and discussion, much tea was drunk, and scones eaten, whilst walking around Antoni's interventions in the Gallery, and visiting his nearby facade installation on the CB1 development.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Perception of Colour

A fantastic hour-long podcast on the Perception of colours.

"To what extent is color a physical thing in the physical world, and to what extent is it created in our minds? We start with Sir Isaac Newton, who was so eager to solve this very mystery, he stuck a knife in his eye to pinpoint the answer. Then, we meet a sea creature that sees a rainbow way beyond anything humans can experience, and we track down a woman who we're pretty sure can see thousands (maybe even millions) more colors than the rest of us. And we end with an age-old question, that, it turns out, never even occurred to most humans until very recently: why is the sky blue?"

Thanks to Radiolab

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Point of Entry

^Soto, Jesús Rafael, Blue Penetrable BBL. Photograph by Author, at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC

Click the ISSUU link below for a post by Corbin Keech on the exhibition Suprasensorial.

"Created between the late 50’s and mid-70’s the pieces accurately reflect a tumultuous period of global change in both society and design, where upheaval and destabilization were the norm. More specifically, they reveal color’s innate functionality as a reference tool and container of meaning. Their collective message is equally poignant today - dehumanized cities must be reconsidered, the public is worthy of meaningful communal experiences, and color is an agile and powerful tool in the effort to stitch together society’s disparate components."

Monday, 7 May 2012


^Azzurra by Nathalie du Pasquier, april 2012, photo by Alice Fiorilli

To talk about colours we have to name them and to name them we have to use names of things which have that colour. It is the evocations the names bring to our mind that make us imagine them.

Listen to these: emerald green, moss, sap green, veronese, eau de Nil, almond green, olive green, pine green, bottle green…and then Naples yellow, tired green, green with envy, caput mortum, ivory black, ultramarine, aile de corbeau (another black with a blue reflect like on the wing of a black bird), Indian yellow, gorge de pigeon.

A blue guitar, the red square, Dingo yellow dog Dingo, the black sea, blue mountains, la place rouge était blanche, the black square of Malevitch, the red apple Snow White ate and then she died, a black cat, the red cape of the toreador, bloody Mary and Blanche de Castille.

“Colours are life”, they don’t exist without light, and they would not exist without these wonderful instruments, the eyes. They say the eye can distinguish 30.000 different colours. I don’t really believe it, too many, far too many, this is an abstract scientific possibility, maybe not a conscious real one, I could never remember all these colours, just maybe notice the tiny variations between them on a chart and then forget them, but this scientific declaration is the proof there are many colours!

Is poetry a science or is it just a brief moment in which the poet and the reader meet around a combination of words, open an unexpected door to unknown perceptions? Can we plan poetry?  Maybe we can just work on it, concentrating the most personal and mysterious aspects of our mind around an idea that is impossible to define, it will find its definition in the poem itself and in no other way. For colours maybe it is the same. Of course there are rules about harmony and one can follow them and achieve a pleasant result, but -deeply- colours are a very personal sense because they involve, like all things relating to so called “sensibility”, a myriad of physical, intellectual and emotional connections.

Pompeian red: you are taken to a roman villa where lying men dressed in white peplum are served by young Egyptian slaves elaborated dishes, animals stuffed with animals stuffed with other animals, from the big ones to the small ones, and there is marble on the floor, outside the Mediterranean is blue but the walls of the room are red. That is all you see in a fraction when you hear Pompeian red.

The way we found to describe a colour is to associate it with something which has the same colour, if we don’t know that thing we don’t imagine the colour, if we have never heard of Pompei we shall have a very different idea of Pompeian red even if we probably could also name it with a number corresponding to a scale of reds. To name a colour is to remember something we have seen, to connect sensations. Indian red, vermillion, carmine, cardinal, geranium, strawberry, cherry, brick, a packet of Marlboro, rosso bandiera, bandiera rossa…rosa Tiepolo.

post by Nathalie Du Pasquier, an artist practising in Milan. Before moving into fine art, she was a leading designer of the Memphis Group

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Saturated Space II: Materials, Light & Atmosphere

Saturated Space just concluded its second event (itinerary above), a series of trips and visits around Venice, and a symposium with the PHD program of the University of Venice's Architecture department. Some images below. For a full photo diary please visit our facebook page over at
Window sill in the Orsoni Workshop. Photo by Lucy Moroney
Pile of offcuts in the refuse area of the Orsoni Workshop
Bottom of a broken kiln pot, where excess material falls, and is collected, during heating
Glass mosaic terazzo floors in the Olivetti showroom
Matte Rose, and reflective grey venetian plaster by deLuigi, Azure blue painted panels, dark Teak, and Bronze details in the Olivetti showroom
Glass mosaic terazzo floors in the Olivetti showroom
Symposium with the Architecture PHD program at IUAV about the Authenticity and Theatricality of Colour in Architecture
Painted cast concrete at the Brion Cemetery
Coloured, gold leaf mosaics on the ceiling of the mausoleum at the Brion Cemetery. Photo by Lucy Moroney
Iridescent tiles at the Brion Cemetery. Photo by Lucy Moroney
Deep blue polished plaster on the interior of the family tomb at the Brion Cemetery
Marble floor tiles in the Querini Stampalia

Monday, 30 April 2012

Gut Reaction: New Materials of The City

^Hugh & Catrina's whisking bowl
This is the first post of three that will document the journey of Hugh McEwen and Catrina Stewart's research & design project for Saturated Space, with this post laying out their topic, aim and approach, the second post being a romp through their exploration process, and the final being a wrapped-up presentation of their findings and proposal.

Field : Lucky dip

Financial institutions surround us, especially in the city of London. Yet so much of the money that is traded and made on digital stock markets has no visual representation. Concurrently, the institutions that work in these areas do so in more and more invisible buildings. The Rothschild HQ becomes see-through; the Shard disappears into the sky. This surreptitious consumption seems totally at odds with the pop culture of bling and TOWIE.

^left to right: the bank of England, the Shard, the Rothschild Bank HQ

These buildings are made of steel and glass and stone. Incommunicative materials that have always been given ascribed meanings. The materials have been selected to represent confident and strong buildings that are in control; but they neglect any reference to the precariousness of the financial systems that are built within their walls. They have no reference to the thrill of gambling, the joy of winning or the humiliation of losing. Following the global financial crisis the public’s attitude towards the banking sector has changed vastly, yet banks have done little to appear any more accountable than they ever were. This bullish PR strategy is not working, as can be seen from the growth of the Occupy movement many years after the initial crash. Banks must engender trust for social, political and financial reasons.

^Occupy StPaul's
Proposal : Hunger for success

If simple changes were made to the material of the institutional buildings, then their meanings to all parties would be made more tangible. The structures could celebrate glories and failures, rather than squirreling them away in basement server rooms. At the same time, more humanistic buildings would help to allay the fears of protesters camped on their steps, or at least provide a less esoteric report than the end of year losses from state owned institutions like RBS.

We believe that the only appropriate material to solve the banking sector’s architectural muteness is cake.

Only cake allows such a range of colour, build up and surface treatments as is necessary to talk about the activities that go on inside these institutions. Cake relies on chance. It is an untameable material, and no matter how hard one tries it will still quickly melt, decompose or be eaten if left exposed to the environment. The colours of these saccharine materials are changeable in different atmospheres and lights. Their organic sheen will flake off, or can be wetted on in a moment’s notice. Their layered and mixed effects combine to form gross warnings or delectable treats. The characteristics of these colours, especially their malleability, have similarities with activities within financial institutions. These coloured materials will become the method by which they are celebrated, rather than being hidden behind the hard and impenetrable materials of current facades.

The severe materials applied to the surface of The City are designed to appear unaffected by their surroundings. These are buildings that want to be seen as being solid and unaltered by the weather, time and the markets. By making building elements out of cake we are allowing for their colours to continue to evolve once the building has been completed. To initially explain the ways in which the materials of financial institutions may be replaced by cake we will illustrate three structures, the inwards facing Bank of England, the transparent Rothschild HQ and the tapered Shard. Initially the process involved in re-making these buildings out of cake materials represents the fragility and elements of chance within the banks and financial buildings, and tackle their solidity and standoffishness. Further studies will examine how fragility and mutability will allow the colours to change over time.

The walls of the bank of England will be made from marble cake. The heavy, thick walls that front the Bank are unnecessary and detrimental to the public realm. Neither the protection, nor the facelessness is required in the modern age. The transmutation of these facades into cake will allow for the building to be more sensitive to its surrounds.

The slick glass of the Shard is designed to look like it is unaffected by the weather. Making the façade of the structure from marbled icing allows it to submit to the elements and celebrate its vulnerability.  

The new face of the Rothschild HQ will be made of reflective sugar coated almonds over a soft layer of sponge cake. The glistening surface exposes the excitement of the internal accrual of wealth while also revealing a softer and more tactile identity.

As the project progresses, new materials will add to this pantheon of cake components, and begin to suggest physiological ways in which the institutions can be reframed.

Critical Tool : Colour and Communication

We are aware that there is the danger of jumping on the bandwagon of banker-bashing, and want to make sure that the project doesn’t slip down that slope. The intention is that the solutions we discover are useful to both the institutions and to their critics. To present this research into cake components, and to sell it to both investment organisations and protesters, it is not the cake that will change, but its framing. The notion of a ‘gut reaction’ becomes very useful to explain this different framing for each party. The language of grey glass and steel may seem solid to investment companies, but it is incommunicative to protesters. A pink suit is humiliating to prisoners in Texas, yet a source of pride for a rower at Henley. The source of information on this ‘gut reaction’ comes from market research. At the same time, physiological research and hard science back it up. We will utilise colour’s ability to change purchasing patterns, eating habits and mood swings.

Research currently being carried out within marketing and advertising companies shows that people have physical and psychological reactions when exposed to different colours. Will the reds in our materials cause the same reactions as the fiery reds used in the fast food restaurant McDonalds? The use of warm colours, according to market research, can be used to increase blood pressure, anxiety and even, make people hungry. Or would blue be more appropriate?

The colours of the new materials will be used to communicate and respond to investors as well as the protesters. They will no longer be dull and inconspicuous; instead they will talk about the exciting events happening within the buildings, allowing for a more humanistic approach to the outside world. Blue, which according to market research and colour psychology, is a calming colour will mean different things, and cause different reactions, from different people. Can it be used in resting areas where the protesters can take a break from their daily activities? And can it be used during harder times to encourage the bankers to be more cautious with their gambling?
^coloured caramel
The colours used on the building will need to change to best reflect the changing financial markets. An orange may cause two very different reactions during prosperous times and in times of economic downfall. Through the changing colours, the materials will react to the passing of time, the changing weathers and the pollution wearing down the surfaces of the buildings.

Over the following period of research, we will use cake to build a different component for one of the three selected buildings. These will be recorded very precisely through photography and each piece will be accompanied by a detailed recipe, with the ingredients and cooking methods of the specific components. This will lead to a compiled recipe book of approved cake components for banks. Once the recipe book has been compiled, we will use it to design a proposal for a new bank within the city. This will work in the other direction to the initial research, since the materials we have discovered will generate the building. This will be investigated through a number of drawings. We will end the project with an exhibition in September where we will present the research into cake components and the designs for a new bank.

We look forward to publishing our next post in which we will begin to detail the cake components that will herald a new financial architecture that is appropriate, communicative and colourful.

Post and Project by Hugh McEwen and Catrina Stewart