Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Review: Pamphlet Architecture 32

Pamphlet Architecture 32: Resilience by Stasus
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012
Paperback, 80 pages

While the Pamphlet Architecture series has been going strong from the first issue by founder Steven Holl in 1977, since 2000 the yearly publication has been in formalized form as a juried competition. Yes, Holl was the author of PA31, but the competitions that focus on particular themes have resulted in a varied bunch of pamphlets by voices not as familiar. The theme for number 32 is "resilience," which brings to mind a number of ideas, such as the ability of cities and nature to deal with environmental stress. What Stasus -- the UK-based collaboration of Matt Ozga-Lawn and James A. Craig -- have responded with in their winning pamphlet is hardly an obvious take on the theme: poetic, tactile, and beautiful in its darkness.

The duo questions definitions of resilience from the get-go, especially ones that, like mine, are positive. They see resilient people, places, and things not as elastic entities that bounce back after a change, but as fundamentally altered, scarred. They also see resiliency in less physical term, in terms of the defining qualities that define something. Their canvas for exploring resiliency is Warsaw, Poland, through a studio for a film institute, a program that came about through an earlier exploration within the confines of a physical studio space. Reading their introductory essay, I understand their approach, but when confronted with their design studies I am in awe of the artifacts created and processes explored, as if I'm grasping only a fraction of what has gone into their work. The texts help to explain how their project relates to resiliency, but there is much more happening.

The "choreographic mapping" in the studio, the "furniture trajectories" on the site, the "suspended hotel" on the front cover; these and other elements also have artistic aspects to them that point toward process as a means of discovery. Ozga-Lawn and Craig's work is not completely impenetrable, but it requires a good deal of patient inquisition to appreciate. What does not require so much effort is appreciating the artifacts that they have created. Much of their output is old-school, meaning models, drawings, and other things created by hand. A few renderings and photomontages are found in the pages of PA32, but these pale in comparison to the rest. The models are the real standouts, and it's great to see so many of them, even if it's not always clear what is going on with them.

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