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Yael Reisner

    marcosandmarjan. interfaces/intrafaces

iCP (Institut for Cultural Policy), Hamburg
10 September to 13 October 2005

    It is rather unusual in the architectural world to put on show a retrospective exhibition early on in one's career, but for a very prolific studio, a great opportunity for a fulsome exposure of unique work. In this case, all produced since 1999 and epitomising many issues in contemporary architecture. As promised at the back of the catalogue, (second in the Consequence book series) it is indeed "fresh".

Marcos Cruz and Marjan Colletti have been working together for the last five years; founding the marcosandmarjan studio. They met each other in London at the end of 1998 at the Bartlett School of Architecture. Marcos arrived from Porto, Portugal, (with a high school education at the German school there.) whereas Marjan came from Innsbruck, although grew up in Bolzano/Bozen Italy. Thus their common working language is German.

Like the exhibition, the catalogue shows a lot of their visual material but also parts of their PhD written work. Texts, which give the reader an important insight into their intellectual preoccupations; Marjan Colletti on "Mimetic Intrafaces" and Marcos Cruz on "Inhabitable interfaces". Though together they cover a very unusual combination of interests, they manage to come out with a very coherent and focused architecture.


This is the second exhibition of experimental architecture, at Hamburg in the ICP gallery (Institute for Cultural Policy) in its spacious rooms; three floors around an open atrium, sharing a lobby with a local cinema.

    The first two floors contained a very colourful array of drawings and photographs of models that parallel their progress through the Bartlett's Master course and on into the PhD research, and are greatly amplified by their many projects for competitions, built work in Portugal and proposals for China. The third floor had a 'woody' overtone - with many plywood laser-cut models, small scale, big scale, filling the space, while the walls were covered with what was left from the plywood sheets that the laser machines had gone through. Thus ornamenting the walls with patterns that were actually the representation of the cavities produced by cutting out the sections through the projects that had built up the models on show. So the richness of their architecture was felt through the Gallery space as well, in colour and material. Nothing looked like anything you saw before!

As reviewer I am coloured by the fact that Marjan Colletti was a student of mine in 1998-99 in the Master Course at the Bartlett, where I met Marcos as well.

So as we can see in the Gallery's first floor, Marcos, during the Master course, was inhabiting latex walls, defined by his own very body. His Latex Models (and latex drawings with colour inserted into the latex), were the most amazing and memorable for me. Decisive black metal parts were combined with formless baggy strange latex parts in juxtaposition to other latex models with stretchy translucent skin defined by the performing body. A new look that depicted new architectural qualities, intense, very attractive and full of character. In the catalogue, one can follow Marcos' ambition through his text. The "Inhabitable Interfaces", where he describes the role of those latex models: "In the research hyperdermis of 1999 and the latex models for Walls for Communicating People facades are all proposed to incorporate data suits, sensor gloves and robotic prostheses that users wear to engage in virtual communication... the Inhabitable Technologised Walls of Hyperdermis are womb spaces par excellence, enclosed, but yet penetrable, anatomically ergonomic and protective... accompanying the building net and body net..." and the further articulation of the architectural skins that: "in a time where a pervasive digital discourse is making the architectural skin ever thinner and more transparent, simultaneously risking to disembody it further from architecture. On the contrary, there is an increasing value in the notion of thick embodied wall interfaces that encompass new corporeal in architecture."



His text forms a very convincing report on the architectural opportunity of Inhabitable interfaces, and added to that an original and thorough study of inhabitable walls since the Renaissance.

Marjan, was not concerned with inhabitation during the early stages of the Master Course but was himself inhabiting his own designed world of lines. It contained gadgets, old friends and animals. A dense, chaotic but highly controlled vision, both complex and delightful. A self-contained, happy, wild world of comfort.


Interestingly, I find that the nature of Marjan's world of habitation in this early work is a metaphor for his Human-Computer-Interaction. Marjan's text is a long search to prove that within the process of producing Digital Architecture there are ways of expressing ones' fantasies or poesies, and where the "muse" has a role to play. A fundamentally different approach from the many digital architects, who will claim that it is all about data and mathematical models. In comparison, one is encouraged by his fresh and original viewpoint.


  As he has added: "...Intrafaces used for architectural design purposes ought to challenge the trade's aim at hyperrealism and parametric calculation, allowing pleasure, fantasy and bliss to enlarge the aesthetic, tectonic and topological vocabulary of digital space [...] On a conceptual level, the intraface must have shaken off its dust of self-organising, representational, abstract Turing machine...".

Reading between the lines, a very interesting essay written by Mark Goulthorpe (dECOi) in AD (Architectural Design magazine) he expresses doubts in the existence of 'poetic' ingredients in the work of digital architects, although he seemingly has the ambition to reach a positive conclusion. As a test of that process, Mark applies the writings of G. Bachelard as the criteria for the "Poetic Image" (1) and concludes that it cannot be considered poetic. One wonders what Mark would think of Marjan's approach?

Generally, one can easily agree with the fact that Digital architecture brought to the 21st century, tools and techniques that enable us to get an exciting architecture, as complex and varied as we wish it to be, and that the CAD CAM production of design as an industrial process helps in its achievement. But, I find it hard to agree with, or to even understand the Digital architects' ambition since the 1970's to keep the process purely rational. Or their claim that this is the great opportunity to erase the world of individual signature architecture.


To add a relevant anecdote: John Frazer, (one of the fathers of the Digital Architecture and already in the 1970s gaining recognition at London's Architectural Association), wrote in the introduction to his Evolutionary Architecture. (It) "investigates fundamental form generating processes in architecture. The rules are described in a genetic language which produces a code-script instructions for form generating".

Mathematical algorithms were obviously part of the procedure, diversity and new unimaginable forms were part of the expectation. The work looked great, intense and inspiring, but one became suspicious of how pure the method was, since the work in the 70's looked like other work in the 70's; with an appearance inherited from Buckminster Fuller, just as the 90's digital work looked like what we saw elsewhere in the 90's. Suggesting that in any case the zeitgeist found its way in, and I suspect that 'good eye' is there as a 'joint authority', as always has been...

Do we need science historians to confirm what is known today in Art as in Science, that "...Intuition was revealed to be synonymous with visualization... The power of unconscious parallel processing of information, emerged as a central part of creative thought...". (2) Marjan's text on "Mimetic Intrafaces" makes it rather clear that he is not joining in on that strange extra agenda that abolishes individual expression.



In both cases, Marcos and Marjan whether in their individual or joint design work, come up with a new world of habitation full of comfort, service, atmosphere, emotional touch - that is real and virtual, complex and not pure. A hybrid of things, all acting well together and morphing gently from one to the other.

In their public buildings (mainly proposals for competitions), the process of sorting out the three dimensional circulation is further inspired by the interpretation of the German word for circulation: "Erschliessung". Not just concerned with the function of circulation but involving the act of decoding, revealing and disclosing the programme, its spatial distribution, its structure, and the perspectival views as you proceed through a building. Sorting out the calmer spaces versus the intense ones, the atmospheric and the more mundane as the building is revealed. Enjoying the notion of the three dimensional node with convoluted spaces flowing inside and out and looking back at themselves.

The competition proposal for the New Tomihiro Museum (Azuma Village, Japan) is a beautiful example of marcosandmarjan's architecture. They chose the bagpipe, a musical instrument, as the best metaphor for the building; with its soft bag versus the hard linear pipes, both beautiful and ugly forms, opposites that enhance each other. The floppy biomorphic bag became the external part of the project; the garden inside with a soft materiality and a soft perception. The bagpipe has pores; so the exhibition spaces sit in the pores like pockets. What is commonly outdoors becomes indoors, and the pockets as the exhibition cones go inside out. Just as there are many ways of playing music on the bagpipe; there are many possibilities and ways of using the building. With a similar freedom for path as with air.


marcosandmarjan explain that in German "biomorphic" is a common term; originally introduced to the culture so as to bring in familiarity, and as argued by Günther Feuerstein, we are certainly used to the idea of illustrating a building through analogies to our body. (3) But for marcosandmarjan, rather than solely referring to the presence of the muscles that give shape to the body, "biomorphic" means the formless, the floppy, the unrecognised and the exploration of the unknown - quite opposite from the original meaning.

What is common to the New Tomihiro Museum and to many of the other projects is their spatial organization, creating a hybrid of three vocabularies: Lines, surfaces and volumes. An amalgamation of three juxtaposed conditions where the three dimensional circulation is holding them all together. The circulation system is actually interweaving those territories; revealing, disclosing, decoding the building as one moves through it. With each vocabulary of each territory clearly recognisable as the system morphs from one to the other. In a way this description is a simplification of the interface-intraface concept. The circulation is happening in between the volumes on the interfaces, while the volumes are the intraface (this relationship is much discussed in the catalogue).


The three different vocabularies in the building and the way they are composed with each other, doesn't worry these designers as it might have worried Greg Lynn, who, (when he explains his geometries by way of arriving at the notion of "intricacy" in his architecture), emphasizes the importance of synthesizing the whole and the parts and making them all part of the same intricate system.

These and other differences between them and Digital architects in general, reveals the fact that their architecture is not purely digital in its thought process, therefore there is no good reason to keep it as purely digital architecture. It carries far more in its process then form making. It deals with people, with emotions, with context, with composition, with structural concepts, with motive and it tolerates eccentric ideas.

It is encouraging to notice how, by the end of a Master Course young architects are already able to produce characteristic seeds of their future work. In the case of Marcos Cruz and Marjan Colletti, this process has been quite rapid. Such growth proceeding further through their Doctoral work, competitions and teaching has already generated a highly developed architectural position. One is encouraged by the fact that their academic experience was via a non-prescriptive course – and in a non-prescriptive School of Architecture. The freshness of the work produced is surely a meaningful victory for such a system.

I believe that as architects what we do is the product of our individual culture and its our ambition to produce work that comes the closest to our genuine judgements; I don't believe in the righteousness of facts, data and objective analysis; since any truth can be manipulated into any such set of "objectives".

It seems that in the world of architecture the Romantics still have to battle against the Rationalists. The Counter-Enlightenment is still a situation of combat.

Yael Reisner

1. Poetics in Architecture, "AD", March 2002, edited by Leon van Schaik. Mark Goulthorpe, on Notes on Digital Nesting: A Poetics of evolutionary Form.
2. Arthur I. Miller, Insights of Genius, Imagery and Creativity in Science and Art, The MIT Press, 1996, p. 382.
3. Günther Feuerstein, Biomorphic Architecture, Human and Animal Forms in Architecture, Edition Axel Menges, 2002, p. 11.
    Yael Reisner, an architect, got her Diploma at the Architectural Associaltion, London. Registered in Israel. Was born in Tel Aviv and live in London since 1990. Up to now, works as an academic in London and builds her architectural work in Israel. Teaches architectural design since 1992; started in Greenwhich University and then moved to the Bartlett – University College London. Embarked on her PhD research by design at the end of 2003 in RMIT University, in Melbourne, Australia, focusing on the theme of the Architects’ complex with the Visual culture through the 20th century. Bringing to an end a book contracted with Wiley-Academy UK : "Architecture and Beauty; conversations with 25 influential architects about the troubled relationship".    



  ARCH'IT books suggests:

Peter Cook, Marcos Cruz, Marjan Colletti, iCP
Springer, 2006
pp120, $25.95 $17.13

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