An exploration of emerging architectural thinking and practice in London will be on view at the Heinz Architectural Center of Carnegie Museum of Art from January 20 through June 3, 2007. Gritty Brits: New London Architecture examines the works of six young, London-based architectural firms: Adjaye/Associates, Caruso St John Architects, FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste), Níall McLaughlin Architects, muf, and Sergison Bates architects. These practices operate in and about the city’s post-industrial East End and their work responds to the vibrant diversity of contemporary culture and urban life.
Approximately 150 objects, including 18 models, six of which have been commissioned for the exhibition, will be on view. Also included will be photographs, film, working drawings, and material samples. Visitors to the exhibition will get their first glimpse of London in a room-size panorama of images that presents the everyday urban environment in which these architects build.
“In the work of each architectural practice, the attitude to site is informed by contemporary urban reality-by London’s grittiness, yet also by a potential for joy,” says Raymund Ryan, Carnegie Museum of Art curator of architecture and organizer of the exhibition.
Their “new London” architecture manifests itself in areas that were previously neglected by developers and planners. Clients range from the well-to-do to the less privileged. Some projects are homes for celebrities and art collectors, others provide housing for low-income residents and recent immigrants.
“The collective result of the architects’ creations is that as new social groups and situations emerge, new juxtapositions and cultural layers manifest themselves within the city,” says Ryan. “These new architects allow the city and its architecture to inform one another, and their projects analyze and reinforce the urban experience through use of color, light, texture, and ornament.”
The awnings of market stalls inspired the vivid colors and striations of Adjaye/Associates’ Idea Store Whitechapel, where patrons from many racial and economic backgrounds participate in library activities and classes, use the Internet, and the upper- level cafe. The library is among those projects depicted in films made by Stephanie Hardt and T. Perrin Sledge.
Rethinking our concept of landscape, FAT proposes Custom Car Rococo, a contemporary park-and-ride in Regent’s Park, a vast urban park first constructed in 1810. Alongside some architecturally undistinguished high-rise towers in Tilbury, the architectural firm muf collaborated with teenage girls to organize a barren site near public housing for horseback riding and other community activities. Elsewhere FAT’s Sitooterie and muf’s design for Barking Town Square reinterpret the English folly tradition.
London’s canals now host a growing number of floating homes. Níall McLaughlin’s Houseboat uses environmental technologies for warmth and cooling and, unlike a traditional barge, is made of glass and reveals the lives of its inhabitants. The iridescent and striped facades of McLaughlin’s housing at Silvertown reinterpret aspects of that postindustrial terrain.
Many of the projects in the exhibition are found in Bethnal Green and Hoxton Square, neighborhoods closely associated with the Young British Artists (YBAs). Architect David Adjaye has collaborated frequently with artist Chris Ofili on such works as The Upper Room (acquired by the Tate Museum), the British Pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale, and the Stephen Lawrence Centre, under construction in Deptford, south London.
Caruso St John Architects worked with the artist Thomas Demand and are now preparing designs with Damien Hirst for a private museum in Lambeth. The firm recently completed Brick House, a residence designed for a complex site in Bayswater, and remodeled the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, adding an entrance porch inlaid with multicolored stones.
Sergison Bates architects are developing strategies for housing, ranging from small scale, individual units to large scale, apartment complexes across London. In Bethnal Green, Studio House is located next to the factory that houses the practice of Caruso St John Architects. Flanking a yard stocked with car tires, the narrow, three-story house is folded into its surroundings and, like many projects included in Gritty Brits, may not immediately be noticed by passers-by.
A 120-page catalogue with essays by Raymund Ryan, curator of architecture and organizer of Gritty Brits: New London Architecture, and noted essayist Iain Sinclair (who has focused on London’s East End as a central theme for his work) accompanies the exhibition. Designed by London-based Graphic Thought Facility, the book features 30 projects in or near London selected from the six architectural practices represented in the exhibition.
My Dream Today: Your Dream Tomorrow, 2003–2005
Digital image; courtesy of Jason Lowe