Column | Momentum
EMMETT SCANLON REFLECTS ON A NEW EXHIBITION PROGRAMME AT THE IRISH ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION.
The exhibition in architecture is no longer limited to displays of absent buildings in photographs and models. ‘MOMENTUM’ is a new, bi-annual exhibition programme organised by the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF), intent on propelling ideas in architecture forward, from the minds and hands of architects, out into the public domain. As IAF director/curator Nathalie Weadick declares in her introduction to the catalogue for ‘MOMENTUM’, she is liberated by the “potential of architecture exhibitions as a device to communicate and disseminate architecture”. The inaugural edition, which ran from 9 July to 29 August, presented site-specific work from three accomplished architects – Noreile Breen, Tom O’Brien and Plattenbaustudio – described by Weadick as “a new generation…around whom exists a growing critical consensus”.
First, on the doorstep of IAF HQ at 15 Bachelors Walk, is the sculptural work, 24 Carat, by Noreile Breen, glowing out front, facing south. Once intended to be at the scale of the skyline, mounted up on the roof, the final installation – a gold-lined concave funnel, mounted on a tripod – is an altogether more intimate affair. The cone is bespoke, precious, dazzling; the legs are generic, spindly, mundane. The physical thing itself feels emergent. The head is confidently searching for sun and the limelight, with legs working hard to secure stable ground. As a piece it is both elegant and awkward, certain and unsure. Breen, I think, thrives there, in-between, but this is by no means Breen at her limit; she’s an architect in need of more scope.
Inside, Tom O’Brien exhibits like an architect, his installations dealing with one room, in section from street to basement. It feels, at first, that O’Brien has just left stuff behind; it is not clear if the work is going up or down, being installed or removed. This brings a sense of time and contingency – this is thought in action. There is a flag made of hi-vis material, concrete tests, a battered bench, a printed poem, a table, a fragile frame holding back retaining walls. These are things temporarily here, but also somewhere else. In the catalogue O’Brien reveals his hand, in a car, nails filthy from working with stuff. This is a revealing self-portrait of an architect for whom material clearly matters.
Finally, up top, in ‘All Mod Cons’, Plattenbaustudio share some spatial results of commodified housing¹. They present 52 plan-drawings of often awful rooms for rent, drawn from photos and online descriptions. Alongside is a ‘room’, ‘built’ at 1:1 scale almost entirely out of paper, complete with replicas of objects of ordinary life. It is a work of phenomenal technical achievement. Perhaps Plattenbaustudio best communicate the critical value of the exhibition in architecture, as here architecture-specific skills are harnessed to reveal often hidden realities of living in the built environment. All-white to feel like a drawing, the 1:1 model is an ambitious departure from exhibiting drawings alone; however, the pure white forms, made by hand but resistant to touch by a visitor, perhaps starts to draw Plattenbaustudio’s intentions away from the lived reality of housing, with which the pair so sincerely wish to engage.
The catalogue, deftly designed by Peter Maybury, is wonderful. Of particular note are the reviews of the installations by three writers – Colm Ó Murchú, Alex Curtis and Róisín Cahill – under the Emerging Architecture Writers Programme. These are brilliant, personal responses to the works, yet critical attempts to mediate and situate the ideas encountered in theory and practice.
‘MOMENTUM’ is a truly welcome, ambitious addition to a rather irregular infrastructure of architecture exhibitions in Ireland. Yet, the curatorial approach raises a wider issue: the ubiquitous championing of those of a ‘new generation’, while here sincerely intended as support, is arguably a strategy successfully adopted by the profession of architecture for decades. It is one which has surely contributed to ‘youth’ being equated with inexperience, inexperience being (deliberately yet inaccurately) associated with risk, all tacitly used to sustain a commissioning culture intended to secure work for the usual few, not the growing, diverse many. ‘MOMENTUM’ is here to stay, and so are these architects, all ready.
Emmett Scanlon is an architect, curator, writer and host of the podcast What Do Buildings Do All Day?
¹Plattenbaustudio is an architecture and drawing studio based between Berlin and Dublin, which was founded in 2018 by Irish architects, Jennifer O’Donnell and Jonathan Janssens.