Gritty Brits: New London Architecture

An exploration of emerging architectural thinking and practice in London will be on view at the Heinz Architectural Center of Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh 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), Nall 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. Nall 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, neighbourhoods 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 remodelled the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, adding an entrance porch inlaid with multicoloured 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-storey house is folded into its surroundings and, like many projects included in Gritty Brits, may not immediately be noticed by passersby.

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.

Internationally renowned architect David Adjaye delivers the Architect’s Lecture at the Carnegie Lecture Hall on Friday, January 19 at 6:30pm, and a reception follows. The lecture is free with admission. Adjaye began his career by revitalizing post-industrial sites in London’s East End. His use of colour, materials and light is represented through models and film in Gritty Brits: New London Architecture. Adjaye comes to Pittsburgh as a keynote speaker in this year’s Carnegie Mellon WATS:on Festival.

Raymund Ryan, curator of the exhibition, explores history and emerging themes in London’s architecture and urban development as documented in the exhibition in the Gritty Brits: New London Architecture Lunch and Learn, which takes place on Thursday, February 15 from 10:30am to 2:00pm. The cost is $35 for members and $44 for non-members, and includes lunch at the Carnegie Caf. Call 412.622.3288 to register.

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