Thursday, January 8, 2009

Naja & deOstos - Ambiguous Spaces (PA29)

Naja & deOstos Ambiguous Spaces New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008.

Over the past few decades architecture as an idea and practice has increasingly limited its definition of itself. […] the reality is that architectural styles and forms are often the seductive packaging and repackaging of the same proven, marketable concepts […] beneath the cloak of radicalism the conventions of existing building typologies and programs, with all their comforting familiarity, still rule – and sell. What is needed desperately today are approaches to architecture that can free its potential to transform our ways of thinking, and acting.

The text above comes from the foreword that Lebbeus Woods wrote for the 29th issue of pamphlet architecture, that this time hosts Naja & deOstos. Unfortunately, it seems that we are actually in need to be reminded that the role of architecture is, as has always been, to transform our way of thinking and acting. Luckily this small volume does provoke our preconceptions of what architecture is, or should be – as most of the latest pamphlet issues were doing.

Naja & deOstos’ approach to architecture is a ‘literary’ one. Having as references Franz Kafka and Gabriel Garcia Marques, the architecture of the two projects presented here is clearly understood, as Brett Steele writes in the ‘second’ foreword of the book, as a form of language. The architects, using consciously their language, are offering two stories, two architectural narratives. The first story/project (Nuclear Breeding) explores the history and current condition of Oxford Ness, the site where the first British atomic bomb was initially tested. Investigating the way that craters are created as a result of nuclear explosions the project is a landscaping exercise (do we need again somebody to remind us that landscape cannot be just about planting trees?). The second story/project (The Pregnant Island) is exploring dams; the way that they affect nature, landscape and populations. Using a great amount of statistic data as input, another landscape project is generated that echoes the dramatic changes that dams impose on the landscape, and consists of a kinetic, artificial island.
Language of course is never neutral. And Naja & deOstos are using architectural language here as the vehicle for social and political criticism that generates an ‘investigative’ architecture that has as its starting point programmatic and infrastructural qualities. At the same time literature becomes the primary reference of architecture and is opposed as such to nature.
One could argue that some aspects of the projects remain in the written text while they fail to appear in the drawn one; or that there might be a lack of detail in the drawings that would help in the creation of that ‘magical realism’ effect that the architects are after. But in general the two projects are more than successful in offering a new way to think about architecture and landscape, about what they could be and how they can become bearers of critical ideas and meanings, which renders them really valuable in the contexts of the current situation of architecture that Lebbeus Woods is describing in the foreword.
Read more!