Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Hepworth Wakefield


David Chipperfield Architects' new gallery in Wakefield is a building of impressive modesty which allows Barbara Hepworth's sculpture to take centre stage and establishes strong connections with her home town

David Chipperfield Architects 2011

Seen from the train, the distinctive roof pitches of the Hepworth sit comfortably in a decayed hinterland of industrial sheds on the edge of Wakefield, Barbara Hepworth's home town. David Chipperfield Architects' new gallery houses an impressive range of work by the sculptor.

The pinkish grey of the in-situ concrete construction is precisely smooth and dense. It certainly looked terrific on the sunny afternoon when I visited. The building is best approached via Chipperfield's fine new river bridge. On this side it rises sheer out of a large weir pool on the river, rather like the massive 19th century pile of Titus Salt's textile mill at nearby Saltaire. The effect is inevitably weaker on the other side, where it is flanked by lawn, which does not seem an appropriate treatment in this post industrial landscape. Perhaps some ambiguity of identity is inevitable when an area is in a state of transition. The building is mainly wall, with irregular punched-hole windows focused on particular views. This means that it is not especially open to its context when seen from the outside.

The interior is compelling. A simple entrance hall at ground level links to the cafe, shop, cloaks and toilets, as well as education and gallery administration spaces. A generous stair leads up to the galleries, which are loosely linked cubes, distorted both in plan and section. Each gallery is top-lit along one wall and side-lit from windows, which provide carefully composed views of the river and town. Spotlights in parallel tracks on the raking ceiling augment the daylight with warm artificial light. The intensity and character of light is varied, but always shows the sculpture and paintings to good effect.

The curation of the spaces is superb: not too much on display, clear themes and nice visual links between pieces by Hepworth and her peers. There are two details that don't quite work: the tall John Lewis sculpture feels hemmed in by the ceiling, which would have been better half a metre higher, and some bronze pieces like the Caro 'Woman Waking' and Moore's 'Falling Warrior' do not seem adequately supported on painted mdf plinths.

The palette of materials is subdued: grey finish screed floors with white walls and ceilings in the galleries and clear lacquered grey mdf 3/4 height wall panels at ground level. Chipperfield has judged this building to perfection. It sits well on the site. The concrete finish is tough, but also precise and delicate. Most importantly the collection is beautifully presented and placed in the context of Hepworth's home town. The variety and rhythm of the gallery spaces is unforced, expressed in the 'picturesque' massing, which is tempered by the 'honest' concrete construction. This is a gallery completely in tune with Hepworth and Wakefield.

 See blogpost on David Chipperfield Architects Neues Museum in Berlin

Saturday, 13 July 2013


Can sculpture make good architecture?  
A case of mistaken identity causes consternation at the Academy.

Kloris by Zaha Hadid is exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

Kloris, apparently conceived by Zaha Hadid both as furniture and sculpture, has escaped from the confines of the Architecture Room to the rarified territory of the fine art galleries.  It is displayed on the floor, in the centre of a room lined with paintings, and offers an appealing variety of levels and curved shapes for seating that transcends conventional one-size-fits-all furniture.  Anxiety at the Royal Academy about the status of Hadid's work was revealed when my wife, along with about 20 other weary visitors to this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, was recently reprimanded by a gallery steward for sitting on it.   This raises the question 'is Kloris sculpture, not to be touched, or furniture, inviting full body contact?'  Even when presented as fine art, Kloris clearly exerts an appeal to visitors that transcends the genre boundaries imposed by the Academy.

One of a series,  Kloris is a large scale piece arranged in a radial cluster of elongated, smoothly rounded components.   Cast in resin, it has a finish similar to aluminium. Another version, exhibited at Chatsworth, has some components cast in glassy green.  There are many examples of sculpture which have an architectural character, for example Richard Serra's Torqued Ellipse series, Antony Gormley's Blind Light and much of Anish Kapoor's work.  These share a sense of spatial enclosure.  In Kloris Hadid sets up a spatial relationship between a series of objects, but does not enclose space. This interest in form, taking precedence over enclosure, characterises much of Hadid's architecture, which is often described as 'sculptural'.  It is also typical of Hadid that construction is used to deliver and enhance the form, rather than as something that might be expressed in its own terms.  Arguably, the sculptors' use of materials is more expressive and 'architectural'.  Likewise Hadid's interior spaces often seem compromised by the dominant drama of the exterior form. 

Kloris  represents a superb synthesis of form, construction and utility that the buildings rarely achieve.  Few major architects could produce work as convincing in a fine art setting, or as resistant to categorisation by genre.  Hadid proves at least that architects can produce good sculpture.

See previous blogpost 'Olympic Heats' for preview of Hadid Architects 2012 Olympic Aquatic Centre

Olympic Heat

A preview of two new venues in the Olympic Park - blog posted in June 2012
Aquatics Centre
As part of ‘London Prepares’ I attended track cycling and diving heats at the Velodrome and Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park, designed by Hopkins  Architects and Zaha Hadid Architects respectively.  With their eye-catching large-span sculptural forms, the buildings might appear to be similar, but they are the products of very different architectural philosophies.    One thing that they do have in common though, is that even in February, they were both sweltering!  The warmth inside the Aquatics Centre is less surprising, but the Velodrome is heated to between 24 and 28 degrees to lower the air resistance and create optimum conditions for breaking records.

Echoing the cambered circuit which it encloses, the precise form of the Velodrome has perimeter glazing at ground level with timber cladding above and sits on raised ground:  it is integrated into the landscape with quiet elegance.  Like a classical stadium, the geometry of the track generates a highly focused architecture that is both dramatic and dynamic.  Spectator seating for 6,000 is split into two sections by an ambulatory at the level of the perimeter glazing.  In legacy mode this allows a smaller number of spectators to be accommodated in the seating next to the track, avoiding a sense of it feeling under-populated.   A steel cable net structure supports the double curve of the Velodrome roof.  By using the steel in tension a 90% saving, equivalent to 1000 tonnes of steel, was made compared with a more conventional structure.  Natural ventilation and roof lights, which allow enough daylight into the track area for practice, make this an energy efficient building.
The Aquatics Centre, like the Velodrome, has a striking form, but with a voluptuous whale-like character, an effect reinforced by the ribbed timber cladding.  The heavy steel structure is largely concealed behind the sleek skin of the magnificent roof.  Arranged around the rectangular tanks of the competitive pools are 2,500 permanent seats, with room for 15,000 spectators in flanking temporary stands.  These stands have already been sold and will be relocated after the Games.  Curiously little effort seems to have been invested in their design and they are awkwardly attached to the core building.  On the night that I attended, access for spectators was from under the stand – a wholly unsatisfactory experience.  This casual approach continues where the temporary Stratford City Bridge crashes into the cantilevered north end of the Centre.  As a consequence the bravura flourish of the core building is heavily compromised.

Ceiling detail - Aquatics Centre
Ceiling Detail - Velodrome

Perhaps swimming and diving will never be able to match the visual thrill of track cycling, with its dynamic circuit, futuristic lycra-clad competitors and risk of collision.  To create a fine building requires incredible skill and tenacity on the part of the architect, qualities which Hadid Architects possess in spades, but it also requires a client with singular qualities: not just a vision, but the will and resources to deliver it.  The outcome for these two projects at the Olympic Park reflects the difficulty of achieving this propitious mix.  If the Velodrome is a better building than the Aquatics centre, it is not because lean is better than voluptuous, but because it has been executed with greater conviction.  However, if the Aquatics Centre fails to deliver the anticipated thrill for two weeks this summer, I have a feeling that we will see the brilliance of Hadid Architects’ design emerge after the Games.