On the first floor of the imposing, concrete Art & Architecture Building, a small exhibit shows that concrete needn’t be misused so sorely.
The exhibit, “Team 10: A Utopia of the Present,” follows the metamorphosis of Modernism in the post-World War II era. The catalyst for this change was the titular Team 10, a group of architects frustrated with the cold functionalism of buildings of their time and committed to making architecture more community-based.
The exhibit itself sits in the amphitheater-like pit on the first floor of the A&A building. Boxy, wiry partitions separate the space into titled regions, each corresponding to a different ideological facet of Team 10’s work. Appropriately, the exhibit begins with the section “A New Approach,” then continues in a serpentine path through sections such as “The Aesthetics of Number” and “Flexible Structures.”
Each subgroup is well proportioned by medium. Every heading holds equal parts photographs, drawings and, where possible, intriguing models and video clips. The sections are not balanced biographically — one architect’s work usually predominates — but the spotlighted architect more often than not best represents his section’s title.
In “The Aesthetics of Number,” for example, Van Eyck’s design for an Amsterdam orphanage takes up the most space, overshadowing other smaller works in the area, but clearly demonstrates the drive to make structures with many occupants pleasing to the eye. In his design, shown both in photographic and model form, Eyck creates a structure that both claims and incorporates large plots of open space. The building is essentially a network of long, branching hallways, each composed of a repeating pattern of small and large pavilions. The rooms, then, face the outdoors, while the sprawling, interconnected nature of the hallways traps open space between them.
After putting Eyck’s work on display, the section does little to tell an onlooker how Eyck’s orphanage was received. Was the orphanage ever actually inhabited? How long did the structure exist? Does it still exist today? These kinds of loose ends carry through most of the exhibit. It is not even clear, at points, whether an architect is a man or a woman, or even if the name used is a full name or a surname. Essentially, while there is ample eye candy, there is little to show whether or not Team 10 was successful in its mission. By leaving off these conclusions, the exhibit seems to suggest that an architecture major, if he or she were really paying attention in class, would just know the answers. The colorful models and large-format diagrams, however, are inviting and self-explanatory enough to make the exhibit enjoyable by the non-archie world.
Some sections, for example, are able to stand on their own as simply great to look at. The “Context” section, for example, shows a design by Ralph Erskine. There, his design titled “Ecological Arctic Town” covers most of the wall space with giant, colorful posters. A painting made in otherworldly hues of purple, black and gold depicts a self-contained town, protected by high walls and nested between frigid mountains. Within the crater-like settlement are multiple domed homes, which in later drawings are shown to contain nearly everything a family would need under one hemispherical roof. The drawings are eerie, bizarre and completely captivating.
The exhibit, while not always balanced in content, does a good job of presenting large works in a palatable, intriguing way. While daunting at first, the exhibit becomes warm and friendly after only a little time inside — unlike the rest of the A&A building.