Printer Friendly

Tracing lace: 'the death of ornament was not due to machines, but to the state of mind which led to the triumph of machinery.'.

In his 1943 essay, 'Ornament in Modern Architecture', Kenneth Clark (then Director of the National Gallery) was witnessing an impoverishment of ornament that extended across architecture and the arts. Recalling the third-century shift from the sophistication of Classicism to the apparent primitivism of Byzantine art, he suggested that the aridity of Modern styles represented a conscious change of will in society, and not a retrograde decline in culture.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Influenced by materialism. Modernism's measuring minds saw only the shortest route between two points, leading to a reduced palette of straight lines and smooth surfaces. Abundance was banished, as consensus concluded that ornament was utterly meaningless, in relation to necessity that had become the only virtue worth attaining.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Today, however, 60 years on, we are witnessing a counter shift; a change of attitude in fashion, furnishing and construction that is seeing designers make the most of advanced techniques, technology and trades to create new forms of ornamentation. So, while an industrialised mind-set may have contributed to the death of ornament last century, today's designers have rediscovered that advanced processes can not only make the production of ornament easier, but also inspire its very form.

Caruso St John Architects are part of this shift, seen in this their latest project that draws inspiration from the industrialised process of machined lace. The Centre for Contemporary Arts occupies a steep site on the edge of Nottingham's Lace Market; the historic and complex urban topography has, since the sixth century, evolved from Saxon settlement to the heart of the city's renowned lace industry. Even from short distances, the assembled mass of the conservation area presents a distinguished cityscape, as buildings produce scenographic layered elevations. Extending this image across the CCAN site, a 3120sqm art space will be accommodated within a number of robust architectural forms that echo the hardness and dignity of the immediate built context. With a virtually solid facade that satisfies the need for flexible top-lit exhibition space, the building also produces a series of strong city walls that define the perimeter of the blunt triangular site.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In contrast to in-situ concrete and steel frame interiors recalling the variety and specificity of New York's as-found urban interiors, the architect's description of the exterior marks it as particular to Nottingham. With virtually no fenestration, this element of the design presented an ideal opportunity to extend Caruso St John's investigations into figurative ornamental expression, an interest that has remained largely unfulfilled since the distinctive screen-printed Epstein figures were omitted from their 1995 competition-winning design for the Walsall Art Gallery (AR May 2000). Twelve years on, Caruso St John is developing more sophisticated techniques that will produce richer effects, using a hard latex mould that can be used, reused and adapted as required.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Having selected a pattern from the city's extensive lace archive, a small section of fabric was digitally scanned, scaled and sampled to create a 13m long image that was then machine-milled into resin board. From this a latex mould was produced that could be cast against, depending on how far down the facade the pattern might be required. As if draped from above, the extent of the 'lace' varies around the perimeter, rising and falling to add ambiguity to the reading of forms (which oscillate between the rigid formality of classical fluting and the lighter illusion of drapery frozen in time).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Sitting on a massive plinth of polished black concrete, other subtleties include the use of colour--the concrete is a delicate shade of green, produced using a chromium oxide pigment--and the integration of gold trims. These accentuate the thinness of the concrete when seen edge-on, adding to the illusion of lightness. Recessed fly-tower-like light monitors reproduce distinctive concave forms in satin-finished gold aluminium. Despite the apparent lavishness, this is not an extravagant building. The architects note that, like many nineteenth-century buildings, the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Nottingham takes much from the architecture of the late industrial period, engaging with a tradition that deploys a single cheap material to combine a tough raw interior with a civic and dignified exterior.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
COPYRIGHT 2007 EMAP Architecture
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2007
Words:716
Previous Article:Urban ornament: a temporary pavilion for Munster's international sculpture festival animates an urban backwater.
Next Article:Royal Festival Hall: it took three years to design and build the Royal Festival Hall. This year, its reopening represents the culmination of fifteen...


Related Articles
Soane and Death: The Tombs and Monuments of Sir John Soane.
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: Texts, Contexts, and Interpretation.
Mass confusion: Dagmar Barnouw on Siegfried Kracauer.
Worcester fire put a dent in 1910 Valentine's Day.
The trouble with ornament: revisiting past AR essays, and in discussion with four of Britain's most thoughtful contemporary architects, Rob Gregory...
NATURAL TREASURES ADORN WHITE HOUSE TREE.
The memoir of 1603 and The diary of 1616-1619.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters