I’m a big fan of buildings, which is to say walking around looking at buildings, taking city architecture tours by bike, or car trips out to a particular site, checking out exteriors, interiors—all of it. But for me, architects’ models and drawings are really where it’s at.
There’s an intimacy to architectural drawings and models that fosters a feeling of a sort of partnership, offering an insider’s invitation to that place where it’s clear that the ideas behind making buildings are about so much more than the plans for access elevators or where to put the closets. (And I live in New York City, so I do understand the importance of a well-placed, proper sized closet.)
There is a certain lyricism in artists’ and architects’ drawings, models, and photographs; they’re likely to make you scratch your head and smile and send you floating off into space, to a space that’s just a few degrees over, above, and slightly out of the periphery of your vision—but right in line with the artist’s or architect’s view—and where some element, some line, loop, axis, edge, or bright or shadowy something to grab onto is found.
As the Architecture and Design department preparator I get to see more than my share of these kinds of architectural drawings and models. And I’ve learned that when the curators bring in new works, I’m in store for some kind of wonderful surprise. There’s going to be something that knocks me out. But I’m not the only one in for a treat. Conceptions of Space: Recent Acqusitions in Contemporary Architecture, an exhibition of 20 international projects that were added to MoMA’s collection withing the last few years, curated by Pedro Gadahano with Phoebe Springstubb, is currently being installed in the Architecture and Design Galleries. The exhibition opens on July 4.
It’s hard to know which of the provocative new works in this exhibition to talk about, but I’m going with the Cien House, designed by Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen of the Chilean firm Pezo von Ellrichshausen, because I’m an absolute fool for cast concrete. As an object alone the concrete architectural model is wonderfully compelling, which you might not expect from your basic gray, solid-cast, concrete inverted “T,” but there you have it. The model of this single-dwelling tower (talk about poetics…) offers a clear sense of its presence rising up from, but not beyond the reach of, the landscape. The concrete model and its small companion oil paintings will definitely charm you, but they don’t fully prepare you for the light and openness of the interior space, or the perfect siting of the tower in the Chilean countryside. Luckily, the work of the British artist and architectural photographer Cristobal Palma does both. Two of Palma’s interior photographs and one short video about the Cien House are also included in the exhibition. The Pezo von Ellrichsausen model and paintings offer a public invitation, and the Palma works follow up with unexpected private and personal experiences of the building.
As with the Pezo von Ellrichshausen work, the 19 other projects in Conceptions of Space—from young, emergent practices such as Ryue Nishizawa, Japan; Ensamble Studio, Spain; and the New York–based SO-IL and MOS Architects, and established firms like Herzog & de Meuron, Álvaro Siza, and Kengo Kuma—are all dedicated to exploring much bigger ideas about making buildings in space.