Modernism in Miniature: Points of View at the Canadian Centre for Architecture

Modernism in Miniature: Points of View explores the encounter between photography and architectural model-making between c.1920 -1960. Running from September 22 to January 8, 2012 and curated by Davide Deriu, Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Westminster, London, the exhibition focuses on model photography as a distinctive genre. It proposes an inextricable link with the so-called “model boom” and the explosion of mass media, where miniatures reached out to a wide public and, in some cases, acquired a cult status that has endured to this day. Following a period of decline at the end of the 19th century, caused by the emphasis on drawing advocated by the Beaux-Arts education and by the advent of low-cost reproduction techniques, model-making gained new prominence in the early 20th century. A key feature of architectural modernism, the miniature model became a popular tool of design education and practice. Its re-emergence, as well as the increasing use of photography as a documentary medium, is associated with the Modernist turn towards objectivity, the search for ways to communicate ideas in three dimensions and the possibility for examining a project with the client “in the round.”

During the 1920s – 1960s, a new visual expression emerged from the encounter of these two practices. By transforming a model into a two-dimensional surface, the camera became instrumental in promoting an international architecture that favored “the effect of volume” over “the effect of mass.” It allowed architectural pictures to be manipulated, harnessed and processed to multiple effect as well as disseminated widely through books and magazines.

The exhibition consists of five sections:

  • Object and Image – examining the tools of communication for architect and client.
  • Art of Simulation – surveying composite photography and the quest for realistic simulation.
  • Recurrence – presenting the circulation of imagery in books and magazines, which in some instances created architectural icons.
  • Foundations – looking at post-war educational methods in influential schools of design.
  • Shifts in Perspective – considering how emerging visual media allowed for the visualization of a model from any viewpoint.

The exhibition comprises nearly 50 objects from the CCA Collection and archives and includes photographs of work by Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Carlo Mollino, J. J. P. Oud, Oscar Niemeyer, Lásló Moholy-Nagy, as well as images from the influential design schools the Bauhaus and the Vkhutemas. The objects on display reveal a process that was far from uniform, from straight records of study models, to hyper-realist photomontages. The entrance to the exhibition – the Ante Room – includes a photograph of “two Soviet architects watching a model,” which introduces the differing relationships that spectators and architects have with the model. This space also includes the only physical model present in the exhibition, by Le Corbusier’s office. Over 90 small contact prints are displayed on the walls. In the Octagonal Gallery, vertical and horizontal vitrines contain working photography, publications and magazines.

By revisiting widespread and often neglected imagery, the exhibition provokes questions about the relationship between media in architectural culture and the specific impact of photography on the perception of the miniature.

The CCA hosts a talk (in English) with curator Davide Deriu in the Paul-Desmarais Theatre on Friday, 23 September at 7:00pm. The evening begins at 6:00pm and will include music from Piknic Electronik DJs Leboeuf et Laviolette. Admission to the lecture is free.

A family workshop entitled “Engineering the Unlikely Model” inspired by the exhibition will take place at the CCA on 6 and 20 November 6th and 20th, and also on December 4th. Parents and children will work together to experiment with ways of representing ideas through architectural models in order to conceptualize the constraints of the built environment. For children aged 4 to 12, accompanied by an adult. The cost is $10 per family, and $5 for Friends of the CCA. Reservations can be made by calling 514.939.7026.

In conjunction with Modernism in Miniature exhibition, the Hall Case exhibition features Starting From….People from October 6, 2011 to January 22, 2012, a show that tackles the subject of dwellers, visitors, users – citizens. For centuries, groups, social gatherings and individuals have been represented in architectural drawings and illustrations as a way of conveying different atmospheres, concepts and ambitions.

The Starting From… series explores current publications on architecture and highlights materials in the CCA Collection. Past editions have focused on a variety of themes, including: books by the photographer Lee Friedlander, unusual approaches to travel, the colour pink in architecture, and bubbles.

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