Architecture in time

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For philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin, “allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things”. In this formulation, ruins constitute the material expression of places that once were ideal. Through architectural scale models from the 1920s, this idea is explored in a new exhibition at The Artists’ House (Kunstnernes Hus) in Oslo. The objects, discovered accidentally by Professor Mari Lending of the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, establish an important question on their own essence. Are they representations of buildings? Or can they be understood as architecture at a different scale?
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If the latter is true, then architectural practice can liberate itself from the requirements of function and turn into an autonomous exercise on spatial creation. Nonetheless, their inhabitability pose back the ethical concern of how the world should be inhabited. This preoccupation is heightened because it is Norway – an idyllic country, with an extensive history yet in formative stage as a modern nation.
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On the opening day, curators Mari Lending and Mari Hvattum explained to Glass, “Model as Ruin shows a selection from a collection of Norwegian architectural models and drawings, from 1925. The so-called Permanent Collection had a prominent presence in the international architectural scene in the 1920s and ‘30s, travelling to Brussels, Kiel, Budapest, Helsinki, Berlin, Milan, Paris, Prague, and New York. The Norwegian pavilions in Barcelona 1929 and Antwerp 1930 were also part of the collection’s trajectory. After WWII, the collection fell into oblivion, stored away in archives and attics, and its central role was forgotten. Moreover, the proliferation of black and white photography at the time presented modernism as abstract and monochrome.
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“This collection shows another modernism; not white and austere, but colourful, diverse, and full of detail. The exhibition is a reminder of the need to revisit modernism yet again, and not least to look carefully at its various forms of mediation. Scale models bring us close to the architectural culture of the period, displaying colours, materials, visions and dreams that were never entirely fulfilled.
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“This collection toured the world for 15 years, then for 75 years it was in storage. In a sense, the context of these models is the archive and the storage space – a context which is reflected in the curatorial strategy. The models are shown on shelves – stacked, as they would be in a museum store room. The sense of wandering among archival shelves, discovering unexpected details as you move along, is a quality we wanted to retain in the exhibition. We did not want to fetishise the models as individual works but rather show them as a collection; rich, varied, and heterogeneous.
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“These fragile models have survived against all odds, forming a strange and moving assembly of crumbling materiality and past dreams. Being almost entirely forgotten, the models’ historical trajectory is also a kind of ruin; a fragmented and perforated history which can barely be pieced together. In a sense, the models are miniature monuments of futures past; utopia and ruin at the same time.”
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by Christian Parreno
Photographs by Christina Leithe Hansen
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The exhibition is open until December 15, 2013.
Kunstnernes Hus, Wergelandsveien 17, NO-0167 Oslo

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Christian Parreno

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