The Yale Art and Architecture Building, on the corner of Chapel and York streets, has been the site of praise, protest and even arson since its consecration in 1963. Currently, the building’s second floor gallery houses architectural models that, if constructed, could create more controversy than even Yale’s own A&A.
“Transcending Type,” the current exhibition in the Yale School of Architecture Gallery, displays models — some drawn, some 3-D and some digital — conceived by six American architects in an effort to energize the mundane. Each architect or architecture firm featured in the exhibit presents its design plans for an apartment tower, shopping center, sports stadium, parking garage, highway and spiritual space, but no design stops short of avant-garde.
These six designs hail from the 2004 Venice Architecture Biennale, where they premiered among frescoed walls and winding canals. Over 100,000 visitors wandered the U.S. pavilion, where the designs were displayed side-by-side with those of architects from 28 other countries.
At first glance, the presentations resemble edifices taken from science fiction. Even on closer examination, descriptions such as the one mounted next to “Resi-Rise,” KOL/MAC’s amorphous sculpture and hologram, describing pods “made of plastics that undergo molecular restructuring with stress,” and “smart glass that responds to light,” hint towards the architecture of a different century or even from another planet. Despite appearances, the designs prove to be practically driven. George Yu Architects’ “Shop Lift: Rethinking Retail,” depicted through hand-drawn diagrams, combines retail with public spaces and private units. The multi-floor structure maximizes use of available space for the building itself, eschewing the large parking lots and sprawling stores found in contemporary American shopping centers.
Predock Frane Architects’ “Acqua Alta,” an installation piece designed specifically for a site in Venice, is composed of 5,000 filaments arranged vertically referencing the high tides that continuously flood the city. A scale model stands in the Architecture Gallery, but the plywood boxes framing fishing line-thin filament hardly recreate the spiritual space of the model that was large enough to walk through, which was left in Venice. The required mobility for the presentation and wear from display, such as a squeaking motor on the retractable stadium seating or unpolished elements of other displays, may have detracted from the display’s ability to engage the viewer but did not mar the ideas presented.
The architects in “Transcending Type” rethink spaces we interact with everyday, and will continue to use. While most people walk through shopping centers and drive America’s highways with their eyes glazed over, dazed by the familiar, “Transcending Type” fights this complacency.
At the door of the exhibit, a quote from Robert Ivy, editor-in-chief of the Architectural Record, addresses the architect’s mission.
“Art and architecture can correct this myopic state, clarifying our vision and energizing the objects and buildings before us,” Ivy proclaims.
Though undergraduates who are not pursuing architecture majors may venture into the Art and Architecture building only rarely, the gallery’s current exhibit is worth the trip. The displays address architectural problems of the present and offer solutions that are sometimes bizarre but always fascinating.