by Vladimir BelogolovskyJan 04, 2021
"Vladimir Belogolovsky's Imagine Buildings Floating Like Clouds provides a wonderful insight into the countless ways in which we can think about architecture's possibilities. The excerpts of the interviews with 101 creatives show the importance of conversations as an archive of ideas.” - Hans Ulrich Obrist, Curator, Artistic Director at the Serpentine Galleries, London.
Belogolovsky writes in the book's foreword: “During my November 2016 interview with Eduardo Souto de Moura, at his office in Porto, the Portuguese architect explained, “When I teach, I give all my students one site, one program, one problem, and I want to see 100 solutions, 100 attitudes.” That position resonated with me. And when an opportunity to produce this book of interviews for Images Publishing came up, I immediately thought of assembling a collection of 100 contrasting ways that architecture could be imagined (in the process it became 101). I set out to select one essential part—a single question and answer—from 101 of my interviews with architects. Each would expose the complexity of their thinking process, while comparing and contrasting them to one another. I believe these very personal testimonies can help to bring light to many thought-provoking ideas and open up new possibilities. I have been discussing concepts and schemes with architects regularly for almost 20 years. Since 2002, I have conducted more than 400 one-on-one, multi-hour interviews in New York City and while on business trips to more than 30 countries. As I started compiling my 101-list for this project, I realised that to convey the idea of diversity more fully, in addition to architects, I should also include artists, designers, photographers, and critics who engage with architecture to bring their valuable perspectives and observations into our common discourse. As a result, the book represents key creatives who work in diverse places culturally and climatically and came of age in very different times—from the revolutionary 1960s to our own time, when the future, for many, is being more feared than desired.”
Some of the creatives featured in the book include Raimund Abraham, Vito Acconci, David Adjaye, Emilio Ambasz, Alejandro Aravena, Iwan Baan, Cecil Balmond, Mario Botta, Daniel Buren, Alberto Campo Baeza, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Odile Decq, Thomas Demand, Liz Diller and Ric Scofidio, Dong Gong of Vector Architects, Balkrishna Doshi, Peter Eisenman, Norman Foster, Yona Friedman, Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, Dan Graham, Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, Junya Ishigami, Toyo Ito, Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai, Charles Jencks, Kengo Kuma, Daniel Libeskind, Thom Mayne of Morphosis, Richard Meier, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Rafael Moneo, Eric Owen Moss, Glenn Murcutt, Juhani Pallasmaa, Renzo Piano, Christian de Portzamparc, Antoine Predock, Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelb(l)au, Moshe Safdie, Richard Serra, Álvaro Siza, Eduardo Souto de Moura, Frank Stella, Bernard Tschumi, Lin Utzon, Robert Venturi, Massimo Vignelli, Rafael Viñoly, Madelon Vriesendorp, Wang Shu of Amateur Architecture Studio, James Wines of SITE.
He explains: “The book’s title Imagine Buildings Floating Like Clouds reflects Wolf Prix’s very first fantasy project, The Cloud, that imagined a new way of living in the future, when interactive inflatable spaces would be controlled with the user’s heartbeat! Or, take another idealistic vision by Moshe Safdie who proposed that everyone should have a garden, also expressed in his very first project, Habitat ’67. Will Alsop’s plea that the ground should be given to people and gardens, not buildings, is another idealistic dream. Can architecture be non-idealistic? Emilio Ambasz demands that every responsible work of architecture must be 100 per cent building and 100 per cent landscape. While the aforementioned visions are complementary, many others clash head-to-head, as in the case of Odile Decq and Carme Pigem. If the former designs buildings to accentuate speed, the latter relies on her architecture to slow things down. Shigeru Ban designs 10 of his houses to be made out of paper, whereas buildings by Antoine Predock emerge right out of the local geology. Daniel Libeskind believes that every building must have a story, in contrast to his former professor Peter Eisenman, who tries to remove any hint of narrative from his theoretically driven abstract work. Liz Diller and Ric Scofidio admit that solving problems is too easy and boring, while Alejandro Aravena places problem-solving above all else. Thom Mayne is a futurist, whereas Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu celebrate nostalgia. While Ricardo Bofill argues that cities should be allowed to grow naturally and gradually, urbanist Michael Sorkin insisted on the need for designing new cities from scratch. And if Cesar Pelli warned architects not to jump to making sketches before obtaining sufficient information, Álvaro Siza does just that; he admits earnestly that he can’t help it. Whose side are you on, anyway?”
The following is a selection of a dozen images and excerpts from the book:
Raimund Abraham: “The most honest moment in life for me is when I pick up a pencil. When I draw, my drawing does not represent a step toward realisation of a project. A drawing is an absolutely autonomous reality that I am trying to anticipate. It is a process of anticipation—of how a line becomes an edge, a plane turns into a wall, and the texture of graphite foresees the texture of what will be ultimately built. I believe architecture does not need to be built. The power of architecture is in its architect’s imagination. A drawing can be more powerful than architecture because any building is a compromise. The reality is that all you need is a pencil, a piece of paper, and the desire to make architecture.”
Iwan Baan: “There is no golden hour for me. Places and buildings can look fantastic in very different moments. Pouring rain can be just as perfect as a sunny day. Of course, architects know every detail better than anyone else and they try not to leave much space for any surprise. Yet, so much of photography is all about something unplanned and unexpected. You can’t plan a good picture, but you must be ready to take it.”
Alberto Campo Baeza: “Architecture should not be capricious; every project should be like a diagnosis for a particular site and program. There is science behind every project. Design is based on reason. You have to look for an idea capable to be built. Beauty is not a utopian idea. Utopia is not impossible. With new technology utopia can be built. Beauty can be achieved with logic, rationality, harmonious proportions, and appropriate scale. You have to try to be serious, deep, and sincere.”
Liz Diller and Ric Scofidio of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Architects: “Making problems is more fun; solving problems is too easy. Every time we are handed a program, we tear it apart and we continuously ask new questions. Nothing is fixed. In our projects we critique architecture’s relevance to the world that it is a part of. That’s why so many conventions of our discipline have to be shaken up.”
Dong Gong: “Now I am asking deeper questions and I try to stretch my abilities to create architecture. I don’t have confidence to say that my work is progressing, but my architecture has been transforming. I am consciously throwing away what I already know or what I am very good at. I think artists do their best work when they are searching, when they struggle. The important question is this—what is the problem? I believe in questions that are eternal. I believe the issues we need to address are fundamental—it is about our body, scale, physical limitations, and senses.”
Yona Friedman: “The Ville Spatiale proposes empty ‘space,’ with no general enclosure, no definite floors, walls, floors, and ceilings. Anything that’s predetermined is questionable. Space-frame structure, a minimal one, is envisioned as an antigravity device simply for hanging volumes freely imagined by the users. Why 'pollute' earth with buildings? The user-self planner can install anything, even a tower into the grid. Imagine, having improvised volumes ‘floating’ in space, like balloons!”
Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas: “It doesn’t matter what dreams you had in the past and how many were realised. You may have realised one thousand dreams, but you still need to have a thousand dreams more. It is all about the future. You can’t dream if you only see what’s in front of you now. What is architecture? We are just about to discover it! We want to design something that would allow people to have a dream. And we don’t want them to have the same dreams as ours. We want them to have their own dreams. The world is for the dreamers. A good building is something that is capable of becoming something else, a dream. One day all the dreamers will get together to build a fantastic world.
Steven Holl: “I think light, space, material, colour, details, those are elements in themselves. And the power of abstraction is that we can make things in a new way. We can make new meanings, new entities. We don’t need references. Architecture is art. I believe that architecture can change the way we live. It can change a person. It can change the world. I am interested in architecture that speaks to the soul.”
Junya Ishigami: “…the main image I had in mind was the surface of water. I wanted to make it so thin and light that it would appear floating. The table installation seems absolutely motionless but if you just touch it ever so slightly all the plants start swaying, like swimming in a pond… My intention is to free architecture by inventing new types and varieties to give people more options to explore many more lifestyles. We, architects try to challenge what we know."
Eric Owen Moss: “The idea is for me not to allow becoming a rule or a system. I am against becoming predictable. The question for me is this—can I free myself from being conservative, predictable, and conventional? The idea is to stretch the reality of possibilities. I want to say something or at least to have a discussion, or to share my own hypothesis. I may not even be right, but maybe I am. I think we need this tension. The truth is in the tension of possibilities. Ultimately, it is about the learning process, which evolves.”
Antoine Predock: “Architecture should be a ride—a choreographic, physical, and intellectual ride. It is about feelings, emotions, and experience. Architecture is an adventure, a fascinating journey toward the unexpected. I want my buildings to be experiential, like the Alhambra, where you realise that the architecture is not about linear perspectival order; it is rather about episodic spatial events, like a movie storyboard or a Chinese scroll painting. Above all, architecture is an art, dwelling in imagination. Any building must have a life of its own, independent of program, but of course, accommodating the client’s needs. Architecture merely driven by program is soulless.”
Madelon Vriesendorp: “It was about depicting buildings built in New York in the 1920s and 1930s, the art deco period, when celebrity culture was thriving, and architecture was a part of it. Architects were designing iconic objects for cities. Buildings competed at being the tallest, which humanised them, in a way, and brought humor into architecture. I love Saul Steinberg’s brilliant cartoons and collages of skyscrapers done in the early 1970s, when I was doing my series of New York paintings and Rem [Koolhaas] was writing his Delirious New York. As we were going around collecting material for his book—postcards and books on NYC—I discovered other subjects and started collecting little buildings, souvenirs, figures, toys, etc. It became a real obsession. It was like creating an alternative life for myself, a visual counterpoint to the formal architectural debate. It’s a sort of escapism from reality, isn’t it?”
Vladimir Belogolovsky (b. 1970, Odessa, Ukraine) is an American curator and critic. He founded his New York–based Curatorial Project, a nonprofit, which focuses on curating and designing architectural exhibitions worldwide. He writes for Arquitectura Viva (Madrid), AZURE (Toronto), and is a columnist on STIR. He has interviewed more than 400 leading international architects and has written 15 books, including China Dialogues, Iconic New York, and Conversations with Architects. Belogolovsky has curated and produced over 50 international exhibitions. Among these are Architects’ Voices Series, world tours on the work of Emilio Ambasz and Harry Seidler, and an American tour on Colombian architecture. He has lectured at universities and museums in more than 30 countries. In 2018, Belogolovsky spent the fall semester teaching at Tsinghua University in Beijing as a visiting scholar.