Rethinking architecture in terms of space, energy and our environment

When «Snow Show» opens in a few days at the forthcoming Venice Biennale, it will reveal an unusual display of works made of snow and ice. The exhibition, which is curated by Lance Fung, brings together 30 architects and 30 artists from around the world and explores how art and architecture intersect when given a common, non-functional working tool, in this case, snow and ice. For Anamorphosis, the Greek architectural team that was chosen to participate in the exhibition (and which teamed up with London-based artist Eva Rothschild), working with ice was something new but, in an odd way, not foreign to their overall concept of architecture. What snow does to a landscape is what the four architects of Anamorphosis aspire to do with their architectural projects – drawing attention to space. Since they joined forces in 1992, Nikos Georgiadis, Tota Mamalaki, Costas Kakoyiannis and Vaios Zitonoulis have developed a theoretical approach that prioritizes the notion of space. Using what they call a psychoanalytic approach to space (a theory which draws on Lacanian theory and was formulated by Georgiadis), the Anamorphosis architects seem to care less about the shape of a building or its qualities as an object of design – which is the more conventional approach to architecture – and more about how architecture relates to space. This is an all-encompassing approach which takes into account energy, space, texture, material and structure. How this translates into a building is hard to describe but the fluid quality of their buildings and their sense of the immaterial can be cited as illustrations of their distinctive approach. This approach has recently aroused international curiosity in the field. After the group’s participation last year at the Venice Biennale of architecture where they showed their design for a museum for the Foundation of the Hellenic World in Athens, Anamorphosis is now participating in «Snow Show» as well as also currently showing another urban project (reshaping the entrance to the city of Athens along Kavalas Avenue) at the Rotterdam Biennial of architecture. Of all three, the «Snow Show» project is probably the most experimental and playful. Anamorphosis have designed an open «ice» amphitheater, such as that at ancient Epidaurus. The theater reconstructs the way that snow sits on the slope of a hill but also represents something that is collective, a site that is accessible to all and brings people together, just as happens when it snows. What Anamorphosis also finds interesting about snow is how it makes us want to play. Snow is something that can be enjoyed in its abundance and creates a mood of enjoyment that is the opposite of our obsession with objects, an obsession that Anamorphosis’s architecture tries to counter. As with the rest of the works in «Snow Show,» the amphitheater by Anamorphosis is in a constant state of transformation – it will not melt but will slowly evaporate, thus gradually thinning out. It is this «aging,» transformative quality of ice that the group found as one of the most interesting aspects of the project. (The Anamorphosis project is subsidized by the Greek Tourist Organization.) Experimental projects and ideas that blend art with architecture are both familiar practices for the Anamorphosis architectural team. «The Aegean Sea,» a project in Cyprus in 2000, was a moving installation that presented the history of the Aegean to children and is just one example of the team’s broad-ranging, experimental work. Another is the team’s longtime, in-depth research into open-air cinemas, an urban phenomenon that they describe as unique to Greece. An ongoing study – part of it was the focus of an issue of Architectural Design in 1994 – it examines how space, urban experience and architecture interact with one another to produce a distinctive, lively phenomenon. In fact, the atmosphere of open-air cinemas comes close to the Anamorphosis concept of architecture as space and energy, as something dynamic and evolving rather than as a concrete, finite form. On the subject of open-air cinemas, Anamorphosis has also created a series of computer animation pieces; a means they have used to tackle non-architectural issues, thus carrying their experimental research work even further. But in keeping with their architecture, the animation pieces are based on the same approach. It is an approach opposed to postmodernism and deconstruction in that it does not see images or structures for their surface qualities or as elements of design. Creating an interactive relationship with space, thinking with space rather than for space (the idea that we do not only enter space but space also enters our environment) is, in simple terms, the guiding principle. These theoretical issues also find an application in the redevelopment of the 5-mile segment of Athinon Avenue (the project which is currently showing at the Rotterdam Biennale and was designed in collaboration with architects Andromachi Damala and Michalis Doris) at the point where the avenue enters the city of Athens. The Anamorphosis group has designed lampposts, kinetic metal structures and shelters to refer to the urban environment. An open-air cinema, positioned on another level of the highway (because of the project’s limited budget, this part is still on paper) creates yet another interesting common point between the urban environment and the highway leaving the city. Again, what is interesting is how Anamorphosis uses energy, mobility, light and space in order to denote an architectural environment. This awareness of space also comes across in the other large project by Anamorphosis: the Foundation of the Hellenic World’s Museum of Hellenism in Asia Minor (the project was shown at last year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture). Anamorphosis have used spatiality as a reference to history; space itself connotes each period in history from antiquity to modern times. Structured as a continuous, evolving strip, the building is, like other Anamorphosis projects, about fluidity and energy. The group describe the building as «a spatial monument as opposed to a symbolic memorial or a natural sheltering of events.» At a time when museums are being built all over the world and our notion of culture is an issue of much theoretical concern, the design of the museum is a timely project that explores a different approach to to the museum experience. The project expresses the spirit of Anamorphosis, their aspiration toward «reforming» our environment and sense of space. Their architecture looks unassuming. It does not rely on surface devices but draws on research and uses a subtle approach to nature and surrounding space for a more profound effect.