Continuing its refreshingly oblique series of exhibitions on Architecture, the Canadian Centre for Architecture launched a collection of projects and ideas on wellbeing and the built environment in a show titled Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture. Following from recent shows including Sense of the City (2005), 1973: Sorry Out of Gas (2007), Actions: What you can do With the City (2008), and Journeys (2010), Imperfect Health interrogates Architecture's broader influence on or impact from, simply put, invisible forces. Seemingly, the larger question being asked by this series is where does architecture end and environmental / cultural forces acting upon it begin. The series of exhibitions (and their catalogues) serve to further open up positions on architecture's atmospheric agency, and Imperfect Health is no different.
Providing some 30 projects and ideas, the exhibition demonstrates the powerful possibilties of an architecture in partnership with its environment, in some cases acting as a management device, channeling air, dust, water, flora, and fauna, among others. With its title overtly confessing that this ambition is not naive to presuppose perfection, the show acknowledges the downfall of value-based intentions. The curators write that "these projects ultimately face the resistance of an imperfect world." Through this resistance, the show surveys a range of approaches and techniques for managing health in architectural environments - from quarantined spaces to perambulatory circulation to environment processing. Again, architecture not as a curative agent, but as a management device.
Imperfect Health is organized into six sub-sections of allergy, asthma, cancer, epidemics, obesity, and aging. While this categorization provides a useful index to isolate what ailment architecture is interacting with, the visitor is left to thread together the similar or divergent design strategies being employed throughout these various symptoms. Some projects operate more literally through programmatic demand to address wellbeing, such as OMA's Maggie's Centre for cancer treatment. Others operate more quantitatively, such as the evocative cartographic work of Nerea Calvillo and C+ arquitectos. Still others operate performatively, such as Francois Roche's hirsute models for Dusty Relief F/B-mu. In each of these cases, architecture operates beyond conventional capacity and is inclusive of an environment larger than itself.
Much of the work in the show suggests that architecture "manage" its environment through nature. In fact, landscape is a powerful subtext to the show, as nature provides a healthy counterpoint to Architecture's toxic tendencies. The 2008 project Harmonia 57 in Sao Paulo by Triptyque architects incorporates nature as wired skin using rainwater infused organic concrete. MVRDV's 2001 project Pig City offers agricultural landscapes in the sky, as an argument for both efficiency and cleanliness in the land-use pressured context of the Netherlands. And in one government authored project, the Canadian House Dust study (2007-2010) offers a readymade visualization of the interior micro-natures of sick buildings.
A series of archival material contextualizes research into models of wellbeing and the tools to measure them. These include the 1960s Sun City retirement community brochures, Cesare Leonardi's study of trees from 1960, and Henry Dreyfuss Associates' 1959 study of body measurements for comfort.
The exhibition, elegantly designed by Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen, employs a series of subdividing parallel glazed screens, which brings a powerful clinical sense to moving through the show. This device doubles exhibition rooms and creates conflicting medicalized readings of corridor and room. In addition, the exhibition features a list of highlighted key tag words, such as infection, nutrition, and sanitation that help to hyperlink content across the show.
Mason White (@masoncwhite) is Assistant Professor at University of Toronto and a partner in Lateral Office, Toronto.
Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture
Canadian Centre for Architecture
Curated by Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini
Through 1 April, 2012