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THE PROGRESS OF OMA AT THE BARBICAN
until 19 February 2012

The original western entrance to the Barbican Art Gallery, with grand flight of steps from the main podium level, was opened up to give a public route though part of the exhibition. At the top of the flight off to the left is the Sculpture Court, laid out with a full size outline plan of OMA’s recently opened Maggie’s Centre in Glasgow.

 

The Gallery is entered through an industrial plastic strip door, and similar material, though continuous, is used to separate the public route from the exhibition.

This route, which leads to the Gallery’s normal entrance, three floors up from the foyers, contains the project machine "a browsable, chronological index that gives a comprehensive overview of OMA’s oeuvre," hung on banners.

Off this is the shop, research room with all the books OMA has produced, and the ticket desk. You can also get your free guide leaflet to the exhibition here. But before entering the exhibition itself, there is a series of themed displays including "A building is no longer an issue of architecture but of strategy."  This is illustrated by the MCA HQ of 1995 in Los Angeles.

Other themes are "The European Union will be recorded as one of history’s quietest revolutions," and "The world is running out of places where it can start over," suggesting that the Gulf will reinvent the public and the private whole, and there will be many cultures in a new authenticity.

At this stage you may decide you have gained enough just from the free exhibition, but there is plenty more rewarding material inside (after I had my sandwiches in the warm October sun).

The problem with architecture exhibitions is that they cannot show what they promise, and indeed the first theme, surrounded by beauty, is at first glance an empty space until you notice two small exhibits in the corner.

The exhibition uses the gallery’s room sized spaces ranged on two levels round its staircase to house its themes, a plan which has always restricted the gallery’s flexibility.

The next theme is current building sites, with a series of A1 colour prints, which are continuously updated, presumably by the A1 printer in the gallery.

This is followed by current preoccupations, a series of A5 displays showing what is on the minds of OMA staff. It is apparently the only section not edited by the curator, Rotor. Visitors are encouraged to peel off images and texts from the pads and take them home. I collected those of most interest to me, on the Pearl River Delta, Preservation, Post-Crisis Japan (now considering a new town which could take over from Tokyo if it was devastated), Religion and Rewind. I also collected some graphic ones of a chart showing Preservation overtaking us, and of the potential for renewable energy in Japan.

 

Ascending the stairs gives a view of over three million projected images which recycles every 48 hours; and from the top circuit a view down into the shop through a stud wall resting on the balustrade with the cut out letters OMA on one side and PROGRESS on the other. This is perhaps the time to say that this exhibition is also an exhibition of different display methods, and includes a portable exhibition that OMA made but never used.

From the top of the stairs I took my usual clockwise route though others are possible.

A variety of things struck me as I continued; in eppur si muove extra seating formed from tractor seats mounted on posts set into holes in the floor. Sight lines is not only about designing buildings to preserve existing views, but about designing windows to frame particular views. The view of St. Paul’s Cathedral from 1 New Change springs to mind as doing both. Corrugated glass was developed for the Casa da Musica in Porto to provide a panoramic view out without compromising the acoustics.

Another London example of views out is the sky pavilion on OMA’s Rothschild Bank HQ "for private events with three double height storeys set atop the ten storey building."

Revisiting is what it says with recent photographs of the Kunsthal in Rotterdam dating from 1992. Italic has the theme materials and structure, and illustrates the impressive overhang on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. Places and what to do with them includes slides projected onto the floor and pictures of research visits to Lagos, Moscow and Libya.

White or shiny has a domed light that can be used as a seat – but not here, a prototype of shelves for the Seattle Central Library, and aluminium façade material achieved by a controlled underground explosion, soon to be used on the Prada Foundation in Milan.

On display says that museums are no longer large buildings but small cities. The Tate Modern covers 14,000 sqm, while MoMA is three times this size. [Wasn’t Albertopolis a city over a hundred years ago?]

Materials displays samples of research for cladding the lift core at the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. The decorative motifs will be cut using a cvc drill with conical cutter.

Ornament shows figurative elements for the Rothschild Bank inspired by iconography found in the family archives; the custom woven wall covering reproduces a 19th century engraving of Gunnersbury Park [in Ealing] a former Rothschild estate.

Finally adaptation does not show what you might expect, but a model adapted when a building’s structure had to be redesigned to take into account the foundations of adjacent listed buildings – the point being made that there are still traces of glue where the model was adapted!

The exhibits are not buildings nor necessarily about buildings, but about ideas, ideas which work as they have appeared in OMA’s buildings, and ideas or themes to be seriously considered. As such OMA’s work can be compared with Archigram's or even Buckminster Fuller's.

At a recent lecture at the University of Hertfordshire, Peter Cook, one of the founders of Archigram, said that we should keep open the dialogue from the normal to the unusual and on to the 'loony' for the latter to inform the buildable.

GO AND SEE THE EXHIBITION – if only the free part.

Drapers Gardens 1965 by Seifert

Drapers Gardens 2010 by Foggo Associates

 

 

Rewind
London frequently quotes the ‘arrested development’ of its city fabric with a

Sense of pride. It even goes to great lengths to undo modernisations that

have already taken effect. Many architectural icons from the 1960s and 1970s

are now up for demolition to make space for new buildings more favourable to

the ‘city’s history’ (which apparently ends in 1960). In this respect, even Lon-

don’s costly efforts to rid its streets of single decker buses, serves as an illustration.

 

Religion
If the ‘war on terror’ made us more dogmatic atheists, did the other side maybe

Win after all? Maybe the way to address aberrant Evangelism or Islamo-whatever

Would be to imagine "good" religions and beliefs, instead of spending energy in

Proving that there is no God.I would like cto believe that AMO could be part of

A religious effort, an OMA temple, or monastery? Or short of that, an earnest

pulpit?

 

Two examples of REWIND are Drapers Gardens and the Rothschild Bank,.

Drapers Gardens of 1965 was one of Seifert’s better designs, with a distinctive skyline produced by the convex main elevations and set back ends. This was replaced in 2009 by Foggo Associates.

Then in 2010 the Rothschild Bank by Fitzroy Robinson & Partners, itself a rebuilding also of 1965, was replaced by OMA. This had incorporated "some of the original internal features for the reasons of tradition and nostalgia…… The reinforced concrete box-shaped windows…. give the black granite and white marble clad elevations their distinctive appearance." Continuity and Change; Building in the City of London 1834-1984 Corporation of London.

Rothschild Bank 1965 by Fitzroy Robinson

Rothschild Bank 2011 by OMA

 
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