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September 29, 2009
by Murrye Bernard Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Event: TOWARD “ANARCHITECTURE”: A Conversation between Architects and Artists
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.16.09
Speakers: Joe MacDonald — Founder Urban A&O; Mark Foster Gage — Principal Gage/Clemenceau Architects; David Marcus Abir — Artist & Composer; Alex Amini — Artist; Ula Einstein — Artist
Moderator: Farnaz Mansuri, Assoc. AIA — Principal, de-spec
Organizer: AIANY New Practices Committee

In the past, architects designed by sketching and making models — a hands-on approach similar to that of a traditional artist. Now, architects employ technologically advanced software and materials that allow them to create ever more sculptural spaces, challenging the notion of what constitutes a building. The line between art and architecture seems more blurred than ever — or is it? In the early 1970s, Gordon Matta-Clark formed the Anarchitecture Group, seeking to push the boundaries of architecture. In the same spirit, the AIANY New Practices Committee gathered a group of artists and architects to discuss whether there is a middle ground between the two fields.

Artist and composer David Marcus Abir borrows materials and building systems from architecture for his installations. “Tekrar,” a sound installation for The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT, was organized with angled walls to emulate the structure of the human ear. To produce a multi-sensory experience in his work, he uses “light and shadow to create or expand a physical space.”

Similarly, the work of artist Ula Einstein expresses spatial qualities. For “A Plan for Her,” she collected architectural drawings found on the street, added her own markings, and cut them into strips, that she wove through a found rack. “I’m influenced by windows and openings,” she explains, which is evident in her sculpture titled windows: rolls of paper are set on end like miniature skyscrapers, with openings rhythmically sliced along the surfaces.

Alex Amini, an architect-turned-artist, creates abstract drawings using ink on mylar and enamel on cardboard, among other media. His architectural background is evident in his work, but he prefers to make spontaneous lines as opposed to the “forceful lines” in architectural drawings. Amini also appreciates the autonomy of being an artist, explaining, “The most painful part of being an architect is having to hand off your work to someone else to build.”

Conceptual architecture, however, avoids this quandary. Joe MacDonald, founder of the architecture firm Urban A&O, is exploring several “client-less” projects such as the Bone Wall and the Cairo Tower. MacDonald is able to indulge his preoccupation with pattern by transforming two-dimensional geometries into three-dimensional structures via the modeling software CATIA. The resulting forms appear more sculptural and less inhabitable.

Architectural firm Gage/Clemenceau is known for fluid, ethereal designs, but partner Mark Foster Gage said, “I don’t think what we’re doing is art.” He believes there is a strong distinction between art and architecture, and that blurred boundaries are rare. While interior and exterior surfaces offer opportunities for creativity, architects must “stuff what’s between with plumbing.” Moderator Farnaz Mansuri, Assoc. AIA, countered that some installations take the function out of architecture, citing Gage/Clemenceau’s Valentine to Times Square as an example. Apparently art and architecture, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder.

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