• John Diamond-Nigh

Brutalist fur on a brutalist rock

Space space space: the British architect Richard Rogers boils architecture down to a fine maple syrup of just three words. The Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill says pretty much the same thing, the coolest luxury in life is not to be found in things, but in space, by which he doesn’t mean lots of space, but beautiful space. Right, what would any architect say?

Let’s look at one little corner of the topic: the past. (Notre Dame is still on my mind.)

I came across these words today by Rick Owens: “anyone creating their own environment is following a utopian vision; mine is a brutalist fur on a brutalist rock next to a brutalist fire in a brutalist cave.” I like Owens' furniture a lot. In my own cave in Crete (previous entry) all I lacked was the fur. Plenty of rock and a fire each evening. And a sky clotted with stars like a spill at De Beers.

While a cave is one thing, my point is to wonder if all good space has, or should have, a tinge of the primordial about it. A lick of fur.

The Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt, employing the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, keeps his spaces spare, appointing them with mid-century and contemporary (mostly abstract) art and furniture but also with rustic antiques that exhibit the erosion and fragility of age, lacing recent artifacts with the tattered weather of time. Jung, who I mentioned earlier, lived like a medieval peasant in his house, as a way of hitching himself to the great (and sometimes halloweenish) past of his own mind.

You hear these words a lot right now–re-enchantment, and re-ensoulment. Without recourse to sentimentality or in any way disputing our need to live contemporarily in a contemporary world, that mythical reach of time, like some Unconscious of Architecture, is always part of the present. Ask Picasso. The trick is how to make something of it.

Here’s a different angle: John Pawson. Check him out. He’s very, very spare. Nothing is hung on the wall. No plug outlets visible. Proportions are tuned as precisely as Yo Yo Ma’s cello. Light takes the place of ornament, of art on the wall, of all the usual clutter. The walls are white; the windows are strategically placed so soft washes or random patterns of sunlight are cast across the surface. That’s drama enough. Pawson speaks passionately about the light in Cistercian monasteries. Light is an ancient spirit that softens, deepens and animates his own hyper-modern spaces in the same way that gothic cathedrals, Stonehenge, even the pyramids, invited light in as a fugitive kiss of the eternal.

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