UNTITLED SPACE 00

  • Anyone
  • Anywhere
  • Anytime
  • i.c.w. Jelle Post
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UNTITLED_INTRODUCTION

The concept and first design for Untitled Space originated in 1995 while creating an entry for the Dutch Prix de Rome for architecture. The competition brief requested a “contemporary” design for a new entrance building for the Open-air Museum in Arnhem (the Netherlands), or in other words a more or less public space in an attractive and special scenic location. A very concrete design assignment at first sight that, however, related to some personal considerations about the conception of architecture in general and the formalism that haunted Dutch architecture in those days in particular, raised more and more questions in the course of contemplation. Which ultimately resulted in a project that gave expression to a personal need that had been growing for some time. Where architecture manifests itself, much, if not everything, stops existing. Or so it often seems. This both true and saddening observation in combination with the assignment to apply “contemporary” architecture to a special and beautiful place, or rather one of all the randomly special and beautiful places, leads to a problem definition that does not lend itself easily to pragmatic arguments.

Why this architecture?

46_2Robert Smithson, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan”, September 1969

The project Untitled Space seeks its justification in a reorientation of architecture to its specific context. A reorientation to the immediate material context of the project: the existing physical space and the wider surroundings of the construction to be. The project chooses permanence and existing beauty above the often superficial fascination with the new. The starting point is nuanced transformation instead of isolated creation. Untitled Space does not immediately appear as a form or object, but rather as a manipulated image of its environment, a duplicated or intensified existing reality. The project presents architecture and the creation of architecture almost literally as a form of perception: looking closely at what is already there, reassigning and redesignating. So that in that process, in that crucible of perception, interpretation and design, the transformation of the existing is not only given shape, but is also reflected.

46_3Superstudio, “Fundamental Acts: Life, Supersurface”, 1972

The history of architecture is also reflected, in a certain sense the immaterial context of the project, although it is often contained in material matters: the written, sketched, built and photographed history of architecture. Especially the history of the recent past, the apparently forgotten ideals of the moderns and their direct descendants, the ambition to not only give shape to a single building but to an entire society, or in any case to express their social ideals in the design of space, material and even time. This context, the heritage of Modernism, is again being scrutinized, redesignated or redesigned and subsequently deployed in order to visualize for others the existing beauty that is to be transformed. Maybe it even will be “opened up collectively”, to paraphrase the jargon of the first ideas and sketches of the project.

46_4Superstudio, “MOMA Environments” , 1972

Untitled Space in itself is a simple architectonic space: an explicit “open” space that, in its ambiguous manifestations, is literally unnameable.

46_5S. Giedeon, “Eiffelturm”, from: “Space, Time and Architecture”, 1941

It is one and many spaces simultaneously; a paradoxical space without properties that attempts to seize the last remnants of the infinitesimal and universal space envisioned by the Moderns in its many separate and specific manifestations. Its collective character lies concealed in this: the many views and interpretations that it tolerates offer opportunities to discuss, question and hopefully also explain the distinct social significance of architecture.

46_6UNTITLED_SPACE_01, section

The first attempt, Untitled Space 01, failed incidentally, due to a broken photocopier and the second round of judging by the jury of the Prix the Rome. It demanded a sequel. The initial idea for this fairly elementary form of architecture had more to offer than a single and still insufficiently developed project could represent. So in the following years we gradually developed the idea to realize Untitled Space globally, in the most varied of locations, in order to more closely examine and further develop the many architectonic questions that had arisen, and, moreover, adequately present the possible results or implications.

46_7Le Corbusier, “VillaStein-de Monzie, kitchen”, 1926

Not to realize as a tangible construction, but as photography, the medium in which the majority of more or less well-known architecture reaches us.

46_8UNTITLED_SPACE_02, Sassenheim (NL) 2000

We decided to do some raw sketches of the intended realisations. And again it was the Prix de Rome, which at that time was awarded every five years, that offered us the choice occasion. The idea to submit the same project in a different form again five years later was not only appealing as a good joke with regard to the aura of authentic unicity attached to these kinds of occasions. But precisely for this reason it dovetailed nicely with our starting points for the realization of Untitled Space. In fact we did two sketches, one for each category the contest covered: Untitled Space 02 for ‘urbanism & landscape architecture” and Untitled Space 03 for “architecture”.

46_9UNTITLED_SPACE_02, Sassenheim (NL) 2000

Untitled Space 02 concerned a gas station that should function as a spatial interface between the urban motorway and the surrounding rural landscape. The design took the project back to the typological essence of roof and wall: a series of T-shaped glass pavilions that determine, both individually and collectively, an apparently almost infinite number of places and spaces in the landscape without enclosing them.

46_10UNTITLED_SPACE_03, Amsterdam (NL) 2000

Untitled Space 03 concerned the remodelling of an existing school into a Haman, a bathhouse. This project in a way went even further in its almost anti-architectural approach of the design: it intended to present a conversion that would manifest itself merely as a removal and dematerialisation of what already existed there. This time Untitled Space 02 was nominated for the final round of the Prix de Rome in the year 2001.

46_11UNTITLED_SPACE_04, Azuma Village (JP) 2001

A third sketch was created en passant in the same year, Untitled Space 04, inspired by a competition for a new museum for watercolours in Japan. It concerns a variation on the theme of Untitled Space 02, a series of open T-shaped glass pavilions carefully situated within the surrounding landscape. The artworks are exhibited inside these structures, where light and atmosphere can be conditioned if necessary. Visitors remain outside and watch through the glass, shielded from rain or sun by the roof, but otherwise at the mercy of the forces of nature. Artworks, the surrounding landscape, the sky above, the ground beneath and the people present are reflected and artificially multiplied on the matrix of glass panels, merging into the ever changing images that define the identity of the new museum.

46_12UNTITLED_SPACE_0151_DDO_2.0

Based on these three sketches, we finally decided upon the design for future realizations. It reverts to the very first version of the project: a construction of concrete, steel and glass that, judging by size and dimensioning, could very easily be a house, but could just as easily accommodate a range of other projects. We also decided to limit the first realizations to locations in the Netherlands, and that each realization would be presented in three, separate photographic depictions: a façade, an interior and a detail. Supported by a grant from the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, we began with the execution of what would become Untitled Space 05 in the course of the year 2002.

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Years went by and the number of Untitled Spaces grew gradually.

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And finally summer 2005 a book about Untitled Space 05-12 was published by Architectura + Natura in Amsterdam, three years and eight realizations after the project really got mature. The book takes the project a step further by the involvement of others. It presents all realisations until that date together with essays by five different authors: five divergent interpretations of the project and the themes involved. Each single interpretation adds something new, while in a way liberating the project already somewhat from the mere personal and individual considerations of the makers.

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The publishing of this book doesn’t mean the completion of the project. In the coming years Untitled Space will be realized in increasingly more places in the world, at various occasions and in different forms: whether in photography or moving pictures, as text, as scenery or in any other way that we think is appropriate for the specific occasion, in order to develop, extend and present the incorporated themes and ideas in every new realisation.

However, one of the main questions concerning these future realisations to us lies concealed in the development and fulfilment of the explicit collective ambition of the project. Why this architecture? Can this architecture, or more accurately this idea of architecture, possibly generate any collective meaning or relevance outside itself? Or to put it more simple and prosaic at the same time: how can we get these Untitled Spaces to come alive?

46_17Eric Fischl, The Krefeld Project, “Sunroom. Scene 1”, 2002

UNTITLED_AUTHORS

Toornend & Post were both trained as architects at the University of Technology in Delft, the Netherlands. Since then Post has developed virtual environments for various uses, like light research and simulation, virtual sets and animations for feature films, commercials and exhibitions. Currently he is employed as a scientific researcher at the University of Technology in Delft, working on daylight analysis in architecture. Toornend started out his architectural office in 1993 and has been working on various projects in the field of architecture and urbanism ever since.

Toornend & Post, in their spare time, or one could say for fun, work on serious projects concerning what is commonly referred to as virtual architecture. They themselves rather prefer to consider these projects a kind of ‘paper architecture’, the slightly negative qualification many Dutch architects used in the 1980’s to describe the work of some of their colleagues that did not built that much, presuming that serious architecture only exists in built form and this paper kind of architecture wasn’t getting us anywhere.

They were wrong of course. And especially in our times, at a moment when architecture seems to be haunted by global hysteria, populist politics, economical hooliganism, individual vanity and the likes, digital nonsense not to forget, Toornend & Post consider it most important to step back from time to time, to sit behind a desk and quietly think a little about architecture; architecture as, though maybe a paper, but nonetheless very serious matter.

46_18UNTITLED_SPACE, exhibition at the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, Amsterdam (NL) 2003

http://www.untitledspace.net

UNTITLED SPACE is elaborated in the book of the same name (Architectura + Natura Press; 2005; text by Maaike Bleeker, Jeroen Boomgaard, Joost Meuwissen, Vincent van Rossem, Paul Toornend and Wouter Vanstiphout; graphic design by Michaël Snitker, isbn 90-768631-4-8(UK) or 90-768631-3-x(NL)).

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Order book: info@too.nl