Architecture : Art in Architecture

Kengo Kuma cites Seurat’s influence.

I used Kengo Kuma’s books (little) on Small Architecture and Natural Architecture as jumping off points for a discussion on the equation with art in its many forms which is to me fascinating. <strong>Kengo Kuma</strong> (隈 研吾 <em>Kuma Kengo</em>, born 1954) is a Japanese and professor at the Graduate School of Architecture at Tokyo.  Kuma is also noted for his prolific writings. I tale heed when an Architect talks about ‘caulking widths!’ and the other day I spoke to a tiler about the ‘Equipe’ (Spanish) tiles he was using and they were perfectly utilised and the caulking was a light grey instead of a white or dark grey with the tiling – external and white polished ceramic – little modulations on a modest retail facade. The detail imbued by Kuma is similarly drawn.


Graham Sutherland work

With painting, a subject and other visual Art forms, techniques line up tougher to provide solutions and knowledge we otherwise take for granted or fail to see the connections between. The challenge here is to express the randomness in the regularity of nature’s life and movement through time which is a perpetual engagement.

Natural Architecture is calling us to think of Buildings as clothing says Kuma.  In the characteristics of the body the Heritage Museum of Kuma (Hiroshige Museum) is in three layers. An overcoat of 3cm x 6cm cedar slats, at 12cm intervals, inside his a jacket of <em>washi</em> paper wrapped cedar louvred. Finally on the inside is a layer of <em>washi</em> paper illuminated from within. The structure and elements of walling, flooring are at multiples of 12cm.  The studs of the light walls are at 24cms intervals. The walls are like Japanese inn <em>shoji</em> screens. As this form of construction would be in a public building a layer of plasticised paper was applied to the inner layer to thwart children or damage from visitors.



While this is a compromise the principles hold true.  The flooring too is 24cm squares. The structural engineers – Shigeru Akol and Satoml Makino – designed slender columns keeping the rhythm.  Using humanised materials – <em>plastics</em> – would seem like abandoning the natural approach or compromise but Kuma correctly maintains there would be no ‘Architecture’ or it would be at a standstill were modern inventions, uses not applied. There is no right way he suggests and things must co-exist.  The form of a Building must be a collection of things based on collectivity, humility and hard work.

When this approach is further stimulated by considering the outer world and the barrier the forms make with it there is a further compromise or idea to be taken in. The modular is Le Corbusier territory famously and he was also conscious of the natural responses. Even in The Modular. The plan of Paris 1937 had its relation to nature. Seurat is another whose senses were inspired as Kuma points out by nature’s rhythms.  He is conscious of achieving rhythm by ‘disrupting’ it through choice. The ‘disruption’ takes the shape of a lover for example shaping into modular form light shading a floor or water. It makes the senses defence the man made and the natural in harmonic resonance.

The way that Seurat found it – expression in painting – and engaging was to devise a technique most resonant with the experience of looking and show the world this manner of seeing.  When he was observing the Normandy headlands of other elements of nature, the way trees sway and people are set into a notion of place, be it as occupants in a man made environment or as constituents of a habitat defined by nature itself, he was at once aware of the <em>En mosse</em> unity of movement and alternating states.  Not many accept that as a way into his work.  Instead some see it as a rejection of the impasto approach of his contemporaries and his sparking pointillist invention as a fractal of spaces with each point belonging in a sense to its neighbour while outwardly there are no similarities between those outer objects and the near object except through the continuum of colour balance throughout.  Each colour being totally different yet at the same time forming this <em>En mosse</em> delight in seeing. Seurat like Kuma and others before him were in essence realising the unity of form through observation of the surreality of paint and line in Human form. They would have it demanded of them to react and the stimuli would be forthcoming with and in ideas and expression.  The Normandy work Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp (1885) is one such breakthrough in art.

Predating Picasso, Braque, Van Gogh and the many modern painters to follow his insight was to develop – and it was brought forward by drawing purely in pencil tones of black and white on textured paper this abstraction of thought now realised to be advanced in paint.


Kuma points to three things that make up our world.  His Japanese senses using folklore and the tale of The Three Pigs.  The outcome is to allow the world as we see it to be viewed in any number of ways and thus Buildings need ‘conform’ to the metaphors of natures delicate balance.  Each ‘string’ of nature interconnecting as today science shows and continuously proves to us. The change is manifested in nature and stubborn as mankind adaptability is necessary and a given. The interaction too is often cited. That interaction between particles in ourselves and in nature and which artists find compelling in subject. As Kuma raises <em>Monadology</em> is the (Leibniz) theory of monad recombination or multiple variations producing single entities themselves compromised by time and interactivity.  Or words to that effect!

More temporal is the artists quest. Seurat was in his work a philosopher painter. With his expression he enabled others to see the vision of combinations in colour and their juxtaposition.

The painting most often cited as his ‘enlightenment moment, for the viewer, was Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (1884-86), undoubtedly the miraculous societal and beautiful flaneur, promenading, egalitarian viewpoint which took another perspective on the world within it the 57 or so characters. Does the black dog count?

With it came a one man view on which were to be built other abstractions.  Above is a psychological drawing of Seurat himself  (no.3.) as a lone person on La Grande Jette giving a meaning also in singular societal form, as well as seeing the painting itself being a singular reality.  The same can be said of the lone fisher lady next along.  Neither could it be construed, nor would he have sought that idea, as it having a special status, it simply became symbolically of itself.  It was as just one painting and each time Seurat painted he contributed further to the panthéon françaises of the stable of art.  The panthéon françaises is another route into this thinking. By saintly intervention almost the presence of spirit is told in Buildings and this is since Newgrange, Ireland, to this example, a national monument in Paris, France, it was used as a sepulcher for ‘eminancy’.  The Church that follows.

Church states of mind.

The church of Ste. Geneviève formed in 1764 was secularized in 1885 and to many as  monument was known in Seurat’s time Churches held a special imagery.

As nations define themselves through the respectfulness of habitat Architecture expands those implicated values. The shifting changes of the outer world are stilled in a Cathedral as the past is venerated and reflected on.  War and compromise of the human destruction of meditative states are shades of liberty.  The other sense within a Church most connecting with self and affinity to a higher entity is silence. The inner prayer. With this silence the words when the state of inner peace and enlightenment is reached some rejoicing or in the case of a Church worship is given in song and music. The condition of mankind is satiated temporarily as it is with paintings.

Life is temporary nature is permanent.  Edges of materials are often an artists field of exploration as they are in Architecture.  Glass and steel.  Man made and conforming to many attributes in behaviour. Behaviour is obtained as with man and neither is the person is defined by their behaviour but how they are. Conceivably individual and not as in relation to another thing. Force is applied to material to obtain a reaction and it is therefore defined by that reaction.

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Compromises are evident in Japanese thinking however revered it has become. Edo and one hundred views, a compromise numerically there, flipping the horizontal to the vertical, a compromise there. Intrinsic are the compromises of distilling thoughts into the numerical or geometrical whereas the abiding theme is regularly of time as revolving and returning as night and day.

Seurat never finishes a process in his work.  Rather he moves onto the next trial of the idea of seeing. The subject matter is only partially societal in its observation. Whatever is forming a frame or image it is to be subjected to a trial or excursive outworking in art. The medium is the matter. The concepts are conjunctions of the viewers perceptions overlaying the relative ideas of every artist. Be it promenading or working in the fields, or at leisure on a lake or fishing on a river everyone there is a discussion of life involved.


After Seurat by myself.

Seurat genius’s was to form into his new-impressionist technique that abstraction which would influence other artists.  I believe this went into glass and sculpture. Henry Moore is attributed with ‘inventing’ the hole in sculpture but never alone with his art it can only be seen in relation to other works.  The preceding or later forms tell us what to appreciate of the work.  A value is struck and each one is different. A previous observation I made concerning this is found in an earlier exploration of Game of Thrones in comparison with a place we’re a number of artists collaborated on the reforming of Coventry Cathedral. The artists there to make the point extremely well, just as Seurat made.

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I once had a long conversation with Zaha Hadid when we encountered together maromina plaster at the 9h gallery I think in London. Asking what I was doing and observing my touching a plastered wall with the Venetian plaster technique in understated glory she was at once in agreement concerning the multiple readings of the distressed appearance and randomness it evoked. The control of material was meticulous in its functionality and with little holes, ‘flaws’, perhaps gathering tiny particles of dust in the indents, the presence of the material as a singular statement of collected skill and artefact would be a long subject of materials and their compromised beauty.  Even now long after it, is the vision of the late Zaha Hadid whose work employed those characteristic formations of rationality along with the expression through material the natural value aesthetic she became renowned for.


John Graham

29 November 2017


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Architecture : Game of Thrones

World of Imagination
Television series Game of Thrones has created a set of imagined spaces and realised them in a conscripted form of Architectural history.
It is not stationary but adds its own vision to it, forming the world it inhabits.
Outside of reality imagined sets of Cities, Interior worlds, Ampitheatre and Theatrical overtures are clamouring to focus the viewers attention on storyline and plot. Narrative drives everything from the Throne itself and many sublet versions of it make the story follow the money or the gore.
The alterations in ownership of the top of the pyramidical structure is wrought for all it’s worth. Space and control of it are primary edicts.

The world of nature and environment are the primary winners and humans have their own constructions on it.

The seminar set up by QUB Architectural Society I attended had as it’s title On the theme ‘Journeys in Architecture’ – the Physcology of Space with reference to the Production of Game of Thrones given by Deborah Riley it’s Art Director. (Note the psychology spelling mistake of the poster – it rarely entered the psychology in any case)
Never far away are actual pyramids and the ancients. From the film I recently viewed, Sunset Song, symbols are also referenced though these are in the form of megaliths and standing stones. Ancient reference. Here instead Game of Thrones acts out the Alexander, Roman and Moorish examples of architectural artifice.

Conceit is always thrust forth as the mental, psychological, imagination in flight. Birds, three eyed or binary are roll called to stir the emotional wizardry and supposed shared worlds of control and magnitude of spread of territory. Likewise the roots of nature are entwined into preternatural creatures, here in rhododendron bush branches laboriously honed sanded to configure and clasp as the rooted body of a key character are extensively relied on to convey this otherworldly vision. Outside of visual digital conception this is arranged as a epoch making manifestation of series style.
Nature endures. Nature endures. Foremost is this primary truth yet the series is a purvey acne of artifice and untruth with the counter narrative of we see the world outside the reality or imagination driven to the viewer.

Is it a cast back to the theatrical illusions and distortions often seen in three dimensions in an auditorium or outdoors at night at an Ampitheatre?

I think this two dimensional treatment forgets it’s delivery is into living rooms or large screen darkness in a audio visual suite. Potentially the architecture is diminished and tokenistic. Any elaboration is taken as artifice for what it is alongside the digital visual lift shed upon the screen.

Detail is so important as a statement and substantiation of the theme or direction of concept. Through my short viewing of the series I often note the absence of drapery or tapestry and the gilt pictorial representation present in all cultures. Neither sculpture or art works are there any indications of higher art. Each of those is only present in a slightly formalized way, with dogs, wolves, no wall hangings and elsewhere in tiling and geometrical mosaic like depiction.

A lot of referencing to the Albert Speers, Frank Lloyd Wright, both psychological practitioners, were raised by the designers working on Art direction and underwhelmed being so familiar as erecessitive style icons. Also hinged into the work is religious beginnings with little or no spiritual delivery or significance. A kind of consumerism enters.

It’s possibly unfair to cite a TV series as anything of bearing on the practice of architecture. Civilizations real have sought and corrupted the art just as a corruption of talent and ideas for as long as it has existed.
It has existed alongside the sublime to the ridiculous.
For a series though it has the element of embracing thought and the imagined potential which otherwise remains unaccomplished. It’s service is not aspirational or inspirational but as a means of observing what world thoughts have a presence on our psyche. It is not a noble examination but merely a snapshot illuminating the human condition flawed or otherwise.
Of the 20th Century some buildings went so far as to redefine in timeless and awesome beauty and incredible execution of higher things and none so brilliant than Coventry Cathedral by Basil Spence.

Into this building and I rate it more significant and better than anything produced by Jean Genet, Jorn Utzon or anyone else regarded at the height of architectural expression, their is a collaborative element like no other.
Sir Basil Spence like so many architects in previous centuries called upon artists and craftsmen to deliver into this building the real composition of a whole. The participants where Graham Sutherland and John Hutton.
There is the cluster of triads on the ‘Bishop’s throne from the inspiration of Sir Basil Spence who alighted on a complex thorn geometric frame in Graham Sutherlands house as unifying his idea to simplify and create choir canopies, the throne backdrop and horizontal pull from the chancel onwards the high nave windows.
The vertical depiction of thorns as a canopy to the throne becomes transformative. It’s as though the thorns become birds. There is also the sculptors Elizabeth Frink, whose lectern is an astonishing eagle of perfect scale and presence. Even the grid to rest the Bible upon is an open grid frame. It is perfection. Ever present is the work of Sir Jacob Epsteins whose imagery is at once the gravitas and supreme heraldry of The Cathedral in its portrayal of St Michael and the devil.
Looking back on these things now is like looking at the origins of the work of Michelangelo. Sir Jacob Epstein was working at a time after conflict and great loss of human life, was re-evaluating on behalf of a Church which was soon to attempt its own transformation alongside its fellow traveller the Catholic Church whose Vatican 2 was in the potential making.
He therefore uniquely placed to envision on the cliff face of this impediment, this mere cliff face of a building reaching towards the sky as a unifying, one spire like edifice to awaken lost souls. I say impediment because it is a space we are drawn to and we cross an imagined boundary into it. That is we take in its thrall. Entering a tomb for the living to reflect and return to themselves having sought the power instilled in them by God.
The vision created by the unity of vision which Sir Basil Spence brought is still overlooked in its entirety. To have said in the trenches off Normandy in 1944 when asked what his ambition was, under the consciousness of the bereavement of war and of obvious reflection on the waste of mankind he said, and it is true not folklore, “to build a Cathedral”.
The Church of England was the the musician of the orchestration of the Phoenix it was once the host of. From the Coventry of Lady Godiva to now return to creating a new church was its necessary task. Such were the enthusiasm of the Bishops and Holy Family empowered with conceiving of this instrument to play before God they were richly rewarded with inspiration not least to fasten upon the developing skills of the Architect Sir Basil Spence. Even from the beginning what we now think of as the Graham Sutherland tapestry owes its presence to the initial sketches including the figure of Christ in tapestry at the focal alter place of the imagined Church.
It was an outstanding vision no doubt borne out of deep reflection and concern of the cost of war, this new expression of love and hope with a reticence and design of omission of artifact and iconography hitherto present and faintly if not entirely plagiaristic.

We are lucky to also have in Ireland parallel works by the late renowned Architect religious practitioner Liam McCormick. His influences personal and of wider perspective have a fellowship unmistakably in harmony with Spences.

Sir John Pipers stain glass windows are a vector of light inspiring the interior and the effect is muted while gloriously effecting response to the kaleidoscopic abundance of elemental worldly existing things and evoke things of unimagined presence yet to be discovered.
So many combined to author this magnificent Building while understanding the importance fiction only aspires to intemperately and transgressively.
Forms are not two dimensional transitory things is one lesson Architecture teaches us. Transfiguring. Articulating. Expressing. Editing and observing are calculations due evidential conception. The art of deploying to a work by which ever chosen method is a bridge to the materialisation of the sum of those ideas given to the imagination.

The materiality is found shaped in the many combinations, juxtapositions, combinations and support of separate materials. In the following is an illustrative, evident, example.

Forming the glass screens and the stained glass windows where key and delicate decisions of choice and instilled the renaissance of religion into a city bombed into oblivion. An act of extraordinary resurrection was the weight and burden challenging the theologians who were to use the building and bring the common man to turn to God in desperation after the horrors of war and one within the sight of God.
So profound was this challenge it barely takes a word to dismiss Game of Thrones as a mere token of time driven pretence of no significance at all.
The lack of psychology in the talk despite its form was probably because of a distinct lack of understanding of the subject.
Surreal fictional ‘humans’ are the storytellers and authors of the inhabited spaces. They are in their world and we cannot ascribe our own psychology to theirs.
The Chapel of Unity is perhaps the most perplexing space in Coventry Cathedral. It is – and this is fundamentally a fault of denominational religion – a separate place of worship and reflection intended for the ‘Free Churches’ alongside the Anglican tradition who’s Church it forms a part of. You could begin a long discussion on difference when only one creator exists on that alone and the Architects, mere artisans when it comes to inspiration and vision on their part when confronted with such a brief are to be consumed by many external wishes and considerations.

So the Chapel of Unity has a psychology of space of preternaturalness deviating from all reality of things. Our existence inhabiting space.
Playing with concrete, glass, light, entrance, enchantment, accord is something the Architect is challenged immediately with.
The parameters are explanation enough from the Anglicans. They regarded ‘The Chapel of Unity’ as needing no more than 200 seats. It already thereby making a statement of itself as a sect.

To sum up a little on the premise set, the tract of land, the conveyance of thought and requirement of the idea of Church, the collaboration, the statement, of a building together with its grounds or other appurtenances we see Coventry Cathedral calling towards the goal of its brief – ‘Furthermore the building will embody the thought of the descent of the Spirit upon the waiting Church. Liturgically it will have its centre in Pentecost, and will be the Chapel of the Unity and of the Holy Spirit. That will give it a very specific function in perpetuity within the Cathedral and within its liturgical meaning.’

From with one instruction for ‘The Chapel of Unity’ can be gathered many things. In the Cathedral is a division. The words can apply to the whole but are specific to the Chapel. In its awe inspiring sanctity it creates difference. Mere play with materials such as concrete and glass, of height and containment are graduations of meaning humans in cloth have chosen and made progress on choices. It is unfathomable and incomprehensible to elicit the creator in a building on the confines of earthly things.
It is astonishing the comprehensibility is shaped so progressively as a true Journey in Architecture held here.
The Elizabeth Frink masterpiece

For architectural Students to find any depth or even direction in Game of Thrones is pretentious bile. It is a confection yes and of ‘financial’ value mainly to the company at its helm but compare the reality of the art of Architecture in actual buildings instead to find real value.
Understanding spaces is ultimately a correlation of human occupancy, use and enhancement of their spiritual and core worth. Expedience is not a resolution in itself. So where do you find it?
Coventry Cathedral is one primary source.

John Graham

8 December 2015


With love and Best Wishes to all this Christmas.