Performance architecture

Absence, place and action

Authored by: Nick Kaye

Elements of Architecture

Print publication date:  March  2016
Online publication date:  February  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138775411
eBook ISBN: 9781315641171
Adobe ISBN: 9781317279228


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This essay is concerned with architectural interventions that make explicit and articulate the performativity of built forms: practices that range from architecture conceived and designed to bring form and function into collision with its use, such as Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette (1982–98) (Tschumi 1987), to architecture that is responsive and mobile or that intervenes into the regulation of public space. It is an idea captured by the notion of ‘performance architecture’: an architecture driven by a dynamic interlacing of private and public spaces, whose realisation is identified with the ‘pedestrian’ user’s phenomenal encounter with built forms. Defined, first, in meetings between architectural practice and contemporaneous turns in visual art, including conceptual art, performance, film and installation, ‘performance architecture’ is rooted in the self-consciously avant-gardist and conceptual re-visioning of architectural form and function by groups such as the London-based ARCHIGRAM (1961–74), the Florentine Superstudio (1966–78) and the San Francisco collective Ant Farm (1968–). The frequently manifesto-like interventions of these groups intended to provoke a crisis in the idea of architecture or, as Superstudio proposed, ‘the end of architecture’ (Superstudio 2012), in their challenge to the authority of the built environment. Embracing collisions between architectural practice, theory, and political critique, Superstudio’s projects are exemplified by The Continuous Monument (1969–70), a collage proposal for an infinitely extending gridded structure wrapped around and subsuming – while simultaneously exemplifying – the triumph of corporate architecture. ARCHIGRAM’s influential conceptual architecture included designs for living buildings and living cities (Cook 1999), while Ant Farm’s large-scale touring Inflatables (1971) invited participatory ‘architectural performances’ by the public (Scott 2008). As these various beginnings of performance architecture suggest, this mode and attitude arises from a collision of the aesthetic, public and political agendas that inform the definition of public space – a tension that, when foregrounded, also serves to open these built forms to a sense of their completion by those who occupy and use them.

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