columns of air and threads of cloud


Barefoot, one enters a white curved room, apparently empty. The most relevant objects seem to be the fire protection systems and mechanical pipes above and the air-conditioning grilles. There are also tiny rope barriers preventing visitors from trespassing a certain area, but it is hard to distinguish on which side of the barrier one should walk along. Am I in front of the Emperor’s New Clothes?! Then, the curved colonnade of white vertical rods becomes more and more visible to the naked eye. The rods are not attached to the walls and they do not hang from the ceiling either. We are told that raindrops measure approximately 1 mm. And cloud droplets 0.01 mm. And those are exactly the diameters of this extreme lightweight structure, transparent as air. Its components are only revealed when a wave of air shakes them or a person in black stands behind them. One feels like a cinematographic burglar lacking his high-tech glasses to move through an invisible laser-beam labyrinth. The curved shape of the room potentiates the atmospheric installation and vice versa. During the visitor’s promenade at an utterly unhurried walking pace, one enjoys wondering whether the colonnade should ever come to an end.

Junya Ishigami wants us to experience this delicately built space with his “cute” exhibition Architecture as Air (at The Curve, Barbican Centre; curated by Catherine Ince), and thus, experience the basic elements composing natural phenomena. For him, architecture should deal with the real scale of raindrops and cloud droplets to achieve and explore the limits of a man-made equilibrium.

< In the same manner as rain falls to the earth, as clouds form in the sky, 54 columns of rain have been erected, beams placed across them, and the resulting structure strung with 2,808 threads of cloud. The result: a highly transparent building that seems to dissolve into the air. I find myself irresistibly drawn to this transparent quality, because architectural space is essentially transparent. […] by doing so, we might be able to create through architecture the kind of transparency found in nature that until now, architecture has been unable to provide. […] Such transparency, we surmised, could extinguish the boundary between ‘space as void’ in which there appears to be nothing, and ‘structure as frame’, in which a clear presence is perceivable. We have endeavoured to think of architecture as something akin to the air that surrounds us, filling space into infinity. > [Junya Ishigami]

The fact that we, pragmatist minds, are always eager to touch in order to believe, unfortunately made the structure collapse once, but it is now open to the public again. As architectural historian Taro Igarashi puts it: one might even call it “architecture as incident”. Permanence is not the be-all and end-all of architecture.

[1> Installation. Photo Lyndon Douglas. Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery, London] [2-6> Video stills. Miguel Santa Clara]

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