Thursday, June 9, 2011

Philip Beesley Q&A out in today's National Post

Toronto architect Philip Beesley is one of those particularly Canadian art heroes--celebrated abroad, but rarely getting to exhibit domestically. That's changing this week as Beesley--the hit of last year's Venice Architecture Biennale--opens Sargasso, a sprawling interactive installation, at Toronto's Brookfield Place as part of Luminato.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Beesley as he was setting up his installation. Today's National Post has the resulting condensed Q&A. An excerpt:

Q Your installations have been hailed as a cure for what ails architecture. What's the problem you're fixing here?

A When I was a student, I was taught the perfect building would be a sphere: minimum possible enclosing envelope--because glass and windows are expensive, right?--and maximum enclosing volume. But that kind of form, where you try to be as enclosed and bounded as possible, is also the kind of form that says, "You have as little to do with your neighbours as possible." Nature might agree some of the time that that's a good form; look at clamshells or armoured animals.

On the other hand, though, what about dandelions or sea urchins or snowflakes? That's the opposite kind of form, which has a maximum extension of envelope. It's the opposite idea, and one I'm pursuing. So instead of a world populated by individual, closed forms where "I know who I am, you know who you are, I got my territory, I got a fence between me and you," this is a very optimistic idea which imagines that things are profoundly tangled together--that there are many gentle boundaries between things rather than one absolute fence.

Read on for Beesley's reponse to critics and the answer to "What's your favourite building?" at the National Post.

Beesley had a lot of interesting things to say; as usual, I didn't manage to squeeze them all into the article. Here's a few extras:

1) Did you know Beesley has a tech person for this project who used to be a roadie with Van Halen? Yup!

2) In response to possible criticisms about this project being "frilly," whether physically or societally, Beesley also pointed out that the project is in a way radically efficient, as it fills quite a massive space with materials that pack down to just a few boxes.

3) And just to clarify, these installations that Beesley does have a speculative or exploratory quality. He knows they couldn't build a city now, but the hope is some discoveries made in the process could contribute do functional city materials and spaces in the future. And his studio still does "actual buildings" as well. You can read about these, like a Niagara Credit Union, on his website.

Finally, I'm embedding below Vernissage TV's look at Beesley's much-talked-about Venice Architecture Biennale installation of last year. It gives a close up view of some of the types of things strung high above passerby's heads at Brookfield Place.

Beesley's installation continues at Brookfield Place to June 18.

(Image of Philip Beesley's Sargasso just before it opened at Brookfield Place in Toronto by Brett Gundlock via the National Post)

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