LOBBY: The Spectacle of the ‘Un/Spectacle’

October 8, 2014

LOBBY is a new journal produced by the students of London’s Bartlett School of Architecture. It aims to serve as a “platform for exchange and discussion in lieu of a physical lobbying space”.

Author: James Taylor-Foster

I was recently at a lecture at Rotterdam’s Nieuwe Instituut in which Dirk van den Heuvel mediated a discussion between Kenneth Frampton and Herman Hertzberger. Talking of those who contributed to the Dutch Structuralist movement, Hertzberger lamented the fact that so many have faded into obscurity: “If you make the mistake of not writing,” he said, “you’re bound to be forgotten.” Accompanying design with the written word is at the core of good practice, not only because it lends design an elevated meaning by cementing it into a wider discourse, but also because it often uncovers the subconscious significance of the process of architecture.

LOBBY is an attempt from students of London’s Bartlett School of Architecture to anchor in-house research and external contributions in words, “creating both a space we lack and an action we desire”. Their new journal is also a response to the school’s current in-between state as they await their new building in temporary studio spaces. As such, LOBBY will serve as a platform for exchange and discussion in lieu of a physical lobbying space. The first issue explores the theme of Un/Spectacle, offering different layers, approaches, readings and perspectives on the topic of the ‘(un)spectacle’ of the everyday.

This year has seen the focus of architecture shifted to its ‘fundamentals’. Although unconnected to Rem Koolhaas’ exhibition at the Venice Biennale’s Central Pavilion the way in which LOBBY has been structured is, perhaps, a subconscious reflection of the times. Rather than Wall, Floor, Staircase and Ceiling, the publication is divided into sections, which loosely mimic a studio. The ‘exhibition space’, where design work is showcased; the ‘crit space’, where design work in progress is intensively debated; the ‘staircase’, where interdisciplinary perspectives may momentarily meet; and ‘the lift’, where brief interviews take place. One fundamental they share with AMO’s exhibition is the ‘toilets’ which, in their case, is where “all demarcations between teachers and students get diluted”.

The editors intend to use the magazine as a way of bridging the gap between their school and the wider world – a disconnection, which is currently only briefly filled by their annual degree show. A creative and critical discourse is, to them, “urgently needed at the Bartlett”. This first edition features a phenomenal range of talent, in both words and drawings, who are accompanied by – among others – interviews with Bjarke Ingels of BIG and Jimenez Lai of Bureau Spectacular.

Following a eulogy to ‘Don the guardian’ and the ambiguous glass doors of Wates House, the Bartlett’s former home, Jimenez Lai’s colourful world theatrically unfolds within the pages. An interview with the man who captivated audiences in the Taiwanese Pavilion at this year’s Biennale in Venice examines some of Bureau Spectacular’s comic drawings and playful installations. The interview style is concise but informative and Lai’s responses are often tantalisingly oblique.

Traveling through Montreal (the ‘District of Unspectacles’) alongside an essay by Christian Parreño examining the spatiality of boredom, the mundanity of ‘spectacle’ is explored in an interview with Dr. Sadie Plant. In one of the more open interviews with Bjarke Ingels that I’ve recently read, Regner Ramos engages the founder of BIG in discussions about PLOT and Julian de Smedt, the utopian accessibility of Minecraft and LEGO, defining ‘spectacular’ architecture, and how he has found so much success so soon in what is a famously restrictive profession.

Claudio Leoni and Costas Spyridis examine the Royal Academy’s recent Sensing Spaces exhibition, reviewing and discussing the broader discussions “hardly touched upon” with Anastasia Karandinou. This level of critical debate also extends to Daniel Stilwell’s review of Paul Shepherd’s recent book, How To Like Everything (2013). In addition, a number of student projects are featured in this first edition. Scattered throughout the magazine, standout insights into students’ research include Andrew Walker’s Superimposed Landscapes and Francois Mangion and Shuchi Agarwal’s light-filled Caustic Architecture.

LOBBY should be recognised as an exciting attempt to engage the architectural world with playful overtones and a very serious subliminal position. Interviewing Bjarke Ingels is all well and good but the most valuable content, for me, are the pockets of research sprinkled throughout the journal. I’m referring specifically to Bernadette Devilat’s explorations into alternatives for heritage areas following earthquakes in Chile, the Timescape of Chiaki Yatsui, Bernardo Dias, Qiuying Zhong, Tamon Sawangdee and Eizo Ishikawa’s Aerocraft project, and Italia Rossi’s reflections on fragmented space: N-visioning the Elusive (t)HERE.

Brief bursts of observational articles, such as Nick Elias’s field trip to Granada and Seville, mitigates the risk of the journal sinking into a soupy mire of academia, making subtle connections between the distinctive values of writing, drawing, reading and seeing. Athina Lazaridou’s essay on the dialectic of the spectacle and representation of everyday life in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum also represents the kind of projects that deserve to be presented and reviewed in a printed platform but are often not given the opportunity. Without these fascinating insights into the curiosity of the individual, the journal’s currency might be lost.

Although a lot has been enthusiastically crammed into this issue, the quality of the content must be appreciated. The student editors of this journal have set themselves a very high bar. It’s my interpretation that the ultimate vision of this magazine is less about publishing beautiful drawings – which are often rather superficial when presented in splendid isolation – and more about the polemical dialogue sparked by discipline of architecture when words and images come together. The risk these kinds of publications often face is whether or not it will appear as a sanctimonious advert for the school. LOBBY, thankfully, is not. It simply reflects the kind of topical, research-driven design projects that make schools of architecture such liberating places.

In an insightful article on Cedric Price, Marcela Araguez notes how even though people are so used to exchanging their experiences virtually, “the material world still remains in the domain of the pre-established and the fixed”. In the same way, LOBBY already feels dynamically grounded within a critical anthology – in spite of its infancy. There is a great deal of content in this first edition, some of which could stand as independent publications in themselves.

If this is a taste of things to come then we should all be very excited.

LOBBY: The Spectacle of the ‘Un/Spectacle” was first published at ArchDaily on 22 September 2014.

[LOBBY was launched on Friday 26 September. Find out more about the launch event here.]

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