Saturday, January 22, 2011

And I thought I knew architecture

Week two of the semester and...I dropped Latin. Urgh. I hate quitting and I feel defeated but it was probably one of the most liberating decisions of my life (well, my university life). Try as I might I was smothered by it and somewhere along the path navigating the dreaded declensions, I was left bruised, broken and baleful.

However, good things, nay, great things have come from this decision. Down one full credit after surrendering to the likes of the nominative and genitive cases I had to find two half credits to get me back to a full course schedule. Tricky it was, yet after a couple days of constantly refreshing windows and anxiety attacks that I would fail out of school, I managed to add the two classes and boy am I stoked. [I have a point, bear with me]

So my improved class list is:
- Intermediate French
- Roman Studies
- Renaissance Art and Architecture
- Modern and Contemporary Art - 1900 to Present
* NEW Modern Architecture
& * NEW Renaissance and Reformation European History

Hell. To. The. Yeah. I'm two lectures into both classes and I love them. The Renaissance history class is brilliant because it supplements my Renaissance art class and the architecture class is just... amazing. There was a time when I really wanted to be an architect but the math and the physics scared the crap out of me and so that dream came crashing down and architecture fell into a dark and dusty recess of my mind. However, this  architecture class and a certain Greek-British designer have revived my architectural interests...
Presenting Mary Katrantzou, one of my favorite British designers, who is part of the British print revolution that includes Basso & Brooke and Alexander McQueen, and her Spring 2011 show: This Is Not A Room. 
Oh, that's an actual room, sorry. But, you will see the correlation... so drumroll please...
This time it is definitely not a room. Katrantzou has taken fashion in a new direction and this is one of the most revolutionary and refreshing collections I have seen to date. After the presentation she said "with this collection, I wanted to put the room on the woman, rather than the woman in the room." 
The shapes of the clothes are very simple, geometric and clean cut, yet made complex through the screening of symmetrical architectural interiors and the three dimensional details: this inspiration came from studying old copies of Architectural Digest and World of Interiors.
As if the silhouettes weren't gorgeous enough but her attention to detail blows the collection out of the water. There are extreme trompe de l'oeil effects such as necklaces that are chandeliers and or light fixtures, curtains that begin at the waist and then become chiffon-like and project out of the dresses to float wispily by the model's legs and fringing that recalls the beading along the edges of antique lampshades.
One of her innovations is the lampshade skirt that both acknowledges her architectural roots and also reinforces her brilliant illusion of interiors as exteriors. The style, nipped at the waist and flared out at the hips is an extreme shape but is one that others like McQueen have used and is feminine and tough at the same time.
This yellow and blue lampshade outfit is one of the most standout looks of the show, one of the more simple graphic designs yet one of the most boldly images. I love the fringing  around the circumference of the skirt, which makes the image all the more real.
More trompe de l'oeil effects such as the flowers that become puffed sleeves and the checkered tablecloth-esque sections of fabric that trail airy.
It truly is her greatest masterpiece yet and I'm looking forward to many new seasons of her innovative prints. Setting is also very important to this collection; it was shown in the old Eurostar terminal at Waterloo station in London and this massive structure is extremely light, austere and spacious, the perfect setting for the pops of color and classical architecture Katrantzou brought with her in her clothes.

This collection of architectural proportions awoke in me a quiet hunger back in September and it has finally been satisfied by this new architecture class. Week two we were introduced to Belgian Art Nouveau at the turn of the century and spent the whole class discussing Victor Horta's masterpiece, Tassel house (1893) in Brussels.
The exterior is snugly nestled among other row houses, yet there is a certain level of sophistication that distinguishes this building. Though often forgotten, Belgium was actually one of the largest artistic centers in Europe and this facade demonstrates the Belgian avant-garde and also reminds us why it is the home of Art Nouveau. The beauty of this exterior is what it shields on the inside, a jewel few knew existed.

Horta was a classically trained architect yet his interest in progressive materials such as glass, iron and other metals was piqued when he was commissioned to design a series of greenhouses for the monarchy. This experience is exceptionally clear in his treatment of the interior of the Tassel House which was owned by a fellow visionary and bachelor living with his grandmother, Emile Tassel. Tassel gave Horta the ultimate gift of complete creative license and his only stipulation was that the house had to be a place where his fellow academics could come for stimulating discussions and it had to be pleasing for his grandmother.
Well, I think Horta went above and beyond Tassel's vision and the house is an example of light, academic, sophisticated, bourgeoisie living while still retaining some classical references though completely avant-garde and new. From left to right: the wintergarten, main staircase and view from the living room to the dining room.

As I mentioned earlier, Horta's past experience with glass and iron when designing the greenhouses has manifested itself in a new elegant style of naturalistic, curving lines that ebb and flow throughout the house, breathing life and style. Even if you did not know of Tassel's previous experiences the ceiling of the wintergarten is extremely reminiscent of a greenhouse roof and there is no mistaking that reference.
I just wanted to throw in the ground plans for the house because I feel that they are a piece of work themselves.

The design feature of the house that entrances me most is the curving, vine-like iron work that climbs through every room like the dangerous plant from Jumanji.
There is no other place in the building that speaks of Horta's design aesthetic than the main staircase. His combination of wood, mosaic tiles, iron and glass combines aesthetic and functionality in such a way that makes it more a piece of art than a method of climbing the levels of the mysterious house.

I thought of Katrantzou's show immediately when I saw this house and the staircase. I love that though they lived 100 years apart, both Katrantzou and Horta are architectural miracle workers whose work will continue to inspire. Please tell me you see where I'm coming from...

I wanted to do alittle of architectural play myself and so I went onto the AD website to browse through old issues to find architecture and interiors that could have been inspiration for Katrantzou. Below I've compiled some photos that encapsulate the colors, light and vibrancy of the show...
While only a modest bedroom it was the pattern on the bedspread that caught my eye. It is details like that that Katrantzou has called attention to in her work.
A modern comparison for Horta's work... glass and iron but more geometrically based and hard.
A black and white checkered floor is something I see in a Katrantzou dress, starting at the skirt and then becoming a wisp of patterned fabric.
These curtains are extremely reminiscent of the ones that seem to float out of her many dresses.
There is something about this Art Deco living room that makes me think of many of her interiors.

A look at the outfits in their original context, a room, within a room on a woman. I like that. Anyway, I hope your architectural taste buds are satisfied for now, there will be plenty more to report on the architectural front this semester, I'm sure of it.

That's all for now folks, thanks!

- Life is good

Images of Tassel House from pixadus and my lectureArchitectural digest past issues for all interiors. 

Listening to: 'Little Bones' - Tragically Hip
Observations: In need of a new body... possibly one that doesn't get ear infections, bruises and shoulder 'things'
Craving: A beer at a sports bar watching a Leafs game

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