De Vylder Vinck Taillieu, Maio and Ricardo Bak Gordon: Fragments in equilibrium

At the Centro Cultural de Belém in Lisbon, “Building Stories” features spatial interventions by three international practices, which reveal the behind the scenes of architecture.

“Building Stories”, exhibition view, Centro Cultural de Belém Garagem Sul, Lisbon, 2018. Photo Francisco Nogueira

I often ask myself what makes an architecture exhibition. Or better, when you're organising an exhibition, what part of the architects’ work do you show? The buildings? Or should you try to explain how the projects are constructed, meaning the mental construction of the work? In a former parking garage at the Cultural Centre of Belém in Lisbon, there is an exposition space for architecture called Garagem Sul. The current exhibition “Building Stories” by Rodrigo da Costa Lima and Amélia Brandão Costa gives some convincing answers to these questions. It shows how architecture is a narration made up of diverse types of fragments. Memory, visual language, material and shape compose a kind of grammar by which every architect writes a special story. It is a story written in space, but each time, it also gives a definition of the discipline's most profound meaning.

According to the curators, "Building Stories" is the "the representation of an abstract landscape made up of architectural fragments," but to me, it is above all a dialogue and comparison between very different architects whose dissimilarities are sometimes blurred here. The gallery space forces the visitor to wander, to not follow an established route, to move slowly among the fragments. This unguided perusal almost obliges you to disregard the expressive singularities of the architects and find a meaning for the mental construction process of the architecture. You delve into the wishes, predilections, experiences and working conditions of three architecture offices – De Vylder Vinck Taillieu (Belgium), Maio (Spain) and Ricardo Bak Gordon (Portugal). Portions of their imagination enter into an exchange by using the space, giving it a unitary form without relinquishing their subjectivity.

De Vylder Vinck Taillieu uses the stuff of building – sand, metal grating, iron beams, water and cement blocks – to create an unfinished layout with a direct reference to a functioning construction site, the accumulation that comes before the architecture is born, defining it “beauty around the making of architecture”. Similar to land artists from the 1970s who brought pieces of the landscape to the gallery as a declaration of the need to exit the discipline in order to experiment with new forms of expression, these Belgian architects poetically describe architecture by means of what lies outside the office, when you are surrounded by building materials, before their assembly, before the materialisation of the project. Here at Garagem Sul, DVVT creates a series of accumulations and piles for us to ponder and rediscover the sense of construction.

Maio conducts a twofold operation. On one hand, it uses the structure of the exposition space, multiplying it, changing its proportions, and inserting a new grid of false pillars to construct a transfigured room. Drawings and models are inserted against the backdrop of this built space by means of triptychs standing on the floor almost randomly, mounted with models, drawings and pictures. Ricardo Bak Gordon presents Blue House, currently under construction and partially reproduced on scale 1:1. A brick perimeter is laid out, inside which drawings and models of other projects are inserted, as if to say that the architecture to come will take shape from what has been.

“Building Stories” is developed around the idea of communicating the meaning of architecture to non-architect visitors, who roam around back and forth in search of something not said, but only suggested. They find a storyline at points when the fragments of the individual architects come into contact with one another. New stories (dialogues) are born in which it is practically impossible to tell where the work of one ends and that of another starts. These natural tangents are the sense of architecture. They represent its deeper meaning. The place where the meeting occurs is a pink-painted plasterboard room closed on three sides on which a video is projected (Maio). The fourth wall is made of a stack of cement bricks to form steps (Architecten de Vylder Vinck Taillieu) allowing us to watch the video while remaining in the room. The fact of showing the process, not the final result, is a description of how architecture slowly becomes a city.

Exhibition title:
Building Stories – de vylder vinck taillieu, Maio e Ricardo Bak Gordon
Curated by:
Rodrigo da Costa Lima and Amélia Brandão Costa
Opening dates:
until 14 October 2018
Centro Cultural de Belém
Praça do Império, Lisbon

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