Viewpoint (September 01, 2006)

In Space, Time and Architecture, Sigfried Giedion discusses three basic spatial “conceptions” when formulating an understanding of architecture. The first conception of space relates to simple relationships between volumes, disregarding interior spaces for the sake of developing an iconic architecture considered as sculpture. The second conception of space concerns the hollowing out of interior space from a solid mass. The last conception of space emerged when the singular viewpoint offered through the simple perspective drawing lost ground in the 20th century to the increasingly popular multi-media approaches to visualization. Theo van Doesburg’s de Stijl drawings of the early 1920s typified this early 20th-century enthusiasm for a variety of simultaneous manipulations of horizontal and vertical planes, while Rem Koolhaas’ presentation video for his CCTV building in Shanghai, or MVRDV’s Metacity Datatown video are examples of multi-media propaganda illustrating space through limited vantage points. But what of infinite vantage points? Anish Kapoor’s most recent public art installation in Manhattan may provide us with interesting insight into the ways in which artists can influence our conception of contemporary space.

With digital modelling and fabrication, our ability to manipulate form has never been as sophisticated. Architects continue to be fascinated with creating projects with infinite vantage points, perhaps believing that it is highly democratic to encourage a wide range of architectural representations, extending our own desire to exploit the architecture-as-sculpture paradigm. In The Iconic Building, a recent book by Charles Jencks, the relative ease with which Gehry, Libeskind, Calatrava and Koolhaas manipulate form results in designs which may not always translate into rich architectural experiences, but which provide iconic and reproducible images to reflect upon, and where architectural profundity remains unquestioned.

Kapoor’s Sky Mirror, a 35-foot-diameter concave mirror made of polished stainless steel is situated along the tony and touristic Fifth Avenue. Sky Mirror will give passersby an inverted image of the Manhattan skyline, and a new interpretation of the world around them. Designed to be ever-changing and highly interactive with the public, the 23-tonne sculpture will be mounted on a platform a few feet above street level. The concave side reflects an upside-down image of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and the convex side reflects the world of Fifth Avenue. Kapoor describes his piece as a “non-object” that will either disappear into its context, or provide a portal through which to view and appreciate the inverted skylines of the surrounding city.

Kapoor’s career began to gain prominence in the 1980s, but over the past decade, he has been exploring the idea of the void in works that are described by the Public Art Fund as objects that “destabilize our assumptions about the physical world.”

Perhaps the act of attempting to decipher a building’s architectural significance through a rigorously prepared set of plans and sections is no longer sufficient in our contemporary world of architectural icons, where recent examples have been variously described as bird’s nests, crystals, blobs and sponges–formal exercises which may not always succeed in enriching our everyday lives. Kapoor’s reflective sculptures appear to successfully engage the public with a constantly fluctuating world that can be appreciated from infinite vantage points. As such, the Sky Mirror might just be able to offer a way for us to see beyond our daily selves while providing a reflection of our life within that large room known as the city.