The secret life of building sites: the show that puts cranes and cement-mixers centre stage

18 de Octubre 2016

Noticia del diario británico The Guardian comenta sobre la participación de los académicos Pedro Alonso [EARQ] y Hugo Palmarola [EDNO] en la Trienal de Lisboa. Revisa la notícia completa a continuación:

From Portugal’s all-female bridge-builders to eye-popping behind the scenes glimpses of David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum, Building Site is the star turn of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale

Por Oliver Wainwright, The Guadian

A sleepwalking Olive Oyl steps nonchalantly between swinging steel beams in a 1930s Popeye cartoon, performing a death-defying aerial ballet high above a skyscraper construction site. On the adjacent screen, a Soviet animation from the 60s shows characters leaping on to a prefab concrete panel and being whisked up by a crane into the clouds, floating over a scene of mass workers’ housing down below. The video diptych continues in frenzied jump-cuts, one screen continuously depicting the presence of steel beams thrusting into the frame of American films and cartoons of the 20th century, the other showing the ubiquity of flying concrete slabs in their Russian counterparts. It is a mesmerising sequence, opposing beams to panels, riveters to welders, skyscrapers to housing blocks. In both, the structural system plays a heroic role as the saviour of the mechanised modern world.

Video: a trailer for Alonso and Palmarola’s Choreographies

“We wanted to show how construction sites became places where national ideology and imagination were combined,” says Pedro Ignacio Alonso, who made the short film Choreographies with fellow Santiago-based architect Hugo Palmarola, on show as part of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale. “In the Khrushchev era, when prefabricated concrete-panel construction took off, these films were made to show people that panels were the bedrock of the new society, while in the US, the steel frame is depicted as the tool to build the country out of the Great Depression.”

In both cases, the construction process is more important than the finished building, the welders and crane operators more visible than the architect, and the building site celebrated as the site of burgeoning nationhood as much as anything else. The video installation is part of a fascinating Building Site exhibition at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, the main part of this year’s triennale, which puts the process of making buildings in the spotlight, placing the seldom-explored politics of cranes, scaffolding and cement mixers centre stage.

“So much discussion in contemporary architecture focuses on participation and the intangible social discourse of design,” says curator André Tavares, whose show is a conscious departure from the last edition’s emphasis on everything but buildings. “We wanted to tackle the act of construction, to show how design affects the organisation of the building site, the impact on labour conditions and the wider, physical realities of making architecture.”

The result is a refreshing tonic at a time when so much architecture and design curation is intent on drifting off into critical theory and conceptual art , seemingly afraid of tackling any discussion of bricks and mortar or the underlying economy of construction head on. As Tavares puts it: “We have to stand up for architecture. It is a kind of knowledge, and in this exhibition we are trying to share some of that knowledge. We want people to know what architects do.”

There are surprising stories aplenty for even the most hardened architecture nerds. Echoing the recent scandal of building contractors blacklisting construction site workers for union activity, the show opens with a report produced by provocative architectural thinker Cedric Price in the 70s, following a period of strike action in the UK, looking at how to make building sites happier places to work. Commissioned by Alistair McAlpine, the McAppy Report, as Price jokingly titled it, was at once rigorously systematic and characteristically bizarre, ranging from detailed advice for improving workers’ safety and wellbeing to designs for how cranes might be made more fun, with the addition of TV screens, heaters and sound systems (which sadly never got beyond his cartoonish sketch).

Next comes a film from the Brazilian social activist group Usina, which since 1990 has worked with communities in São Pauloto facilitate the design, construction and financing of their own co-operative housing. “It is important to understand the weight of architecture when the pencil becomes the shovel,” says the group. Thedesign of their homes is determined by what a single person in the co-op – from teenagers to elderly women – can carry on their own, leading to the choice of hollow terracotta blocks, laid with the ease of Lego bricks.

A similar logic lay behind the phenomenal success of entrepreneurial French engineer François Hennebique, who patented a method of using steel reinforcement bars in concrete in 1892, which allowed all manner of complex structures to be built by unskilled workers. While steel reinforcement already existed, the Hennebique method utilised special stirrups that allowed a more efficient and precise calculation of structural loading, meaning he could remove himself from the building site and grow a worldwide empire from the comfort of his Parisian office.

Exquisite technical drawings in the exhibition depict the matrix of bars underlying the structure of a sweeping staircase on the Champs-Élysées, alongside photos of the all-female construction team of a Portuguese bridge in 1906, revealing how the technology allowed women to get involved in this traditionally male domain.

Equally engrossing drawings produced a century later hang nearby, illuminating the tortuous story behind one of Portugal’s most celebrated modern buildings, the Casa da Música in Porto by OMA, used here to illustrate the effects of time on both the design and construction processes. The competition for the concert hall was launched in 1999, with an insanely optimistic completion date of 2001 (to coincide with Porto’s year as European capital of culture). It was a scramble that prompted OMA to recycle a design that was already in the office, taking the faceted form of a private villa and scaling it up to the size of an opera house.

The main concrete walls were poured before the design was even completed, but the project was then hit by interminable delays because of changing political cycles, providing an extended period for the indulgent refinement of interior finishes and details. The stop-start programme is manifest in the final result: the bold concrete shell is the result of the forceful first moves, made with the confidence that only a deadline can bring, while the interior is enriched with material sophistication, developed with the luxury of time.

There are other eye-opening behind-the-scenes glimpses, from the saga of David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum in Berlin to beautiful long-exposure photos by Michael Wesely depicting the ghostly armatures of construction sites. As a whole, the exhibition provides a profound snapshot, helping to explain why buildings turn out as they do by exposing the rarely told stories behind their making.

Building Site is at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, until 11 December.

Cementing attitudes … a still from the 1963 Soviet film How the House Was Built to theKitten. Photograph: Soyuzmultfilm

Usina’s cooperative housing in São Paulo are designed around what one person can carry on their own Photograph: Lisbon Architecture Triennale
Choreographies The Riveter, USA, 1940, by Walt Disney Studios and directed by Dick Lundy Photograph: Walt Disney Studios
Workers’ wellbeing … model for the Portable Enclosures Program in Cedric Price’s McAppy report. Photograph: CCA