advvt, maio and bak gordon in Building Stories
Garagem Sul is an unusually grand, generous gallery space dedicated to architecture exhibitions in Lisbon. Since 2012 this former parking garage under the Cultural Centre of Belem serves as a platform to explore how architecture transforms the physical world. The latest exhibition called Building Stories and curated by Amelia Brandao Costa and Rodrigo da Costa Lima treats this large interior as a landscape upon which almost all scales of architectural production are displayed: from the sketch to the abstracted yet real size execution of a house. The title of the exhibition is ambiguous and can be read in several ways. The show does emphasise on the idea of building but also aims to tell a story itself about the act, the practice of building. To create this narrative the curators introduce three main characters: architecten de vylder vinck taillieu from Ghent, Maio from Barcelona and Ricardo Bak Gordon from Lisbon. A sound installation comprising of six pieces by Tomas Cunha Ferreira spread throughout the exhibition hall and a movie showing eighty projects each for twenty seconds and visualising the act of building individually add a second layer to the story.
As in a good novel the strength of the characters create a suspension which weaves the story of the exhibition. Even if the approach of the three architectural practices differ from each other they also come closer at certain moments: Maio embraces the existing pillars of the parking garage with aluminium constructions and introduces few fake columns, which could be as well big scale models of facades. They radiate the honest aesthetics of industrial building materials and still stand as elegant pieces in the space. Spread in between them lie structural elements used by advvt with the same elegance and gaining new functions. Two long pieces of steel beams painted in deep green act effortlessly as benches to watch the movie, the reinforcement net for concrete lies like a carpet on the floor, piled up wooden plates remind to a cabinet, to name a few. advvt regards the elements of construction as essential pieces of their buildings and do not hesitate to show them bluntly out of their context. These elements are taken as notes, perhaps even as the main characters of certain projects. The explanations about them are not dogmatic yet by being displayed as in the exhibition in Garagem Sul their essential role in the practice of advvt becomes unmissable.
In combination with the spatial intervention of Maio, which also exhibits collages, drawings and a screening of their projects, advvt’s structural elements create a free path through the exhibition space. This path leads to the back of the large interior where the foot print of a house by Bak Gordon is built literally. Rough brick walls in different heights bring the complex floor plan into the exhibition space and provides the scenographic element of another scale than advvt and Maio’s installations. Here the large, framed free hand sketches and drawings of Bak Gordon lean on these walls, few projections show other beautiful houses by the architect effortlessly blending with the Portuguese landscape. Models of many projects are shown in the different rooms of the installation, the different heights of the brick walls allow mostly an overview over the exhibition. Remarkably, this big installation defines directions in the vast garage space instead of blocking it. The curators’ understanding of the garage floor as a terrain demonstrates itself by the choice of the exhibits spanning from the smallest to the largest scale. The works of Bak Gordon take the eye to the landscape, the installations of Maio, both in real and on collages and projections, turn towards the interior and the ‘objects’ installed by advvt introduce an abstraction and physicality of architecture at the same time. Together they weave a beautiful story with an open beginning and open end on this vast interior landscape.