Tuesday, 24 February 2009

John Hejduk and some of his abilities

Last week I received a phone call from Zhe, an architecture student I met back in 2003 while I was finishing my studies at University of Greenwich. Surprisingly, he saw The Hut's review by Studio Idealyc at Building Design a few weeks ago and was very interested in talking about John Hejduk, whose name was mentioned in the article. Zhe is completing his Diploma this year, and his final dissertation is, coincidently, about Hejduk's work.

Hejduk's abilities for creating such of beautiful architectural narratives have always been among my favourite interests. He was something more than an architect; he was an academic, an inspiring teacher, and a poet of great originality. He was the creator of a type of architecture which, for some reasons, was not fully accepted by every student. Somehow, I always felt attracted to his work. During the time I was at the school, he was one of my main references. His drawings and peculiar sketches were a vast source of inspiration to me. I remember wanting to draw like him, tracing over and over his images and not getting very close to such of wonderful style.

But above that, I also studied his theories and way of thinking. The existence of such of poetic and spiritual qualities was the base among the concepts for most of my educational projects. Particular interest I always had in his Houses, Texts/Images and more specially in his Masques. In fact, the Hut at Spa Fields, was the result of a very long and interesting discussion with who was, one of my first teachers at the school and I am very grateful to, specially for having being responsible of introducing me to John Hejduk's work: He is Ed Frith; who is nowadays current Zhe's tutor. They have both just came back from China in where they have been shortlisted for a very interesting architectural competition.

Zhe has offered me to read his text and give him my opinion. I have to say I am delighted of doing so because as much as I read, more than I like. To the point, this has made me get back to my bookshelf and re read some of my old Hejduk's books. Among these, I have found titles such as Vladivotok - a book I bought in the falls of 2002 during a field trip to Russia with my former tutors Vladimir and Ludmila Kirpichev ( "Vlad" saw it at the shop of one of the many Art Galleries we visited and advised me of the importance of buying it -which I now perfecttly understand!), or Sanctuaries, a small catalogue showing the last works of Hejduk. Both of them are truly inspirational. Same as Pewter Wings, Golden Horns and Stone Veils, in where the reader gets easily emerged in the magical landscape interpreted by Hejduk during his visit to south of Spain.

One of my favourite Hejduk's projects is House of Suicide, built in Prague. In 1990, Hejduk was invited by Czech authorities, including President Vaclav Havel to develop this project. Hejduk's narrative was inspired by the story of Jan Palach, who burned himself to death in Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet invasion - a sacrifice that galvanised dissent in 1968. In what was perhaps the height of his career, Hejduk helped Havel dedicate his House of Suicide in the Royal Gardens of the Czech Palace. A truly inspirational and mystic project.

John Hejduk's project House of Suicide (1991) is characterised by a very special and irregular geometry. Despite the strange name Hejduk gave it, the project overall volume itself looks spiky, rather violent. This piece shows the essence of the allegorical and carnivalesque mode that Hejduk identified as architectural Masques. Yet it is easy to relate this piece of work with the term "suicide', the project also spread over the surface of lyrical, painterly and very deep architectural notations. Under Hejduk's hands, architecture is converted into a ritual; this particular project explores the theme of horror as a passage of transformation.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Le Corbusier and the occult

First time I heard about Dr. J.K Birksted was last year, when one of his students was preparing her dissertation at The Barlett School of Architecture. This student was Amy Sullivan-Bodiam and her descriptions were extremelly close with what I saw yesterday while I had the pleassure of assist to Dr. Jan's last book presentation "Le Corbusier and the occult" at the Darwin Theatre in the UCL. I have to admit that it was a fantastic lecture, very inspirational, rich of terms, theories and above all, of architectural ideas.

From the little I previously heard about him, it was not very difficult to recognise his presence into the lecture room. He is a tall, slim man, with short grey hair and which phisical appearance, easily differs, and very extensively, from all the new generation of trendy young architects. Perhaps the fact he is not one of them, stand out the reason of his academic look like style. Dr. Jan has indeed, a very interdisciplinary mind, which is clearly visible if you analyse the different fields of his long academic CV. By the way he expressed himself to the public, -wearing an inmaculate white, perfect ironed shirt and a black suit with a very classical pair of brown leather shoes, anyone could have easily understood, his sense of perfection for recopilating information. While I was taking my notes, I had the impression of being in front of a human archive of architectural history. He described us, and extremelly well, some of the most trascendental Le Corbusier's personal life experiences. And specially the connections of his work "to the compagnonnages, the survivors of the medieval carpenters’ and masons’ guilds, who were involved in the construction of the Unité d’habitation in Marseille".

I really enjoyed listening the contents of Dr. Jan's lecture. The main theme of discussion was clear and transcendental to nowadays interest in trying to understand what architecture is all about. Professor Colin Fournier was in charge of the event's introduction. Fournier's speech was short and concise, his words expressed certain admiration for his colleague Dr. Jan, but above all for his personal interests into Le Corbusier's life and work. After the presentation, I decided to buy the book and even had the opportunity to exchange some quick words with the author; who recommended me to see the new Le Cobusier's exhibition that, coincidentally , started yesterday in the Barbican and which hopefully, I will visit tomorrow with some old fellows from the University of Greenwich.