Alexander Brodsky: Architect Ephemeral
The Venice Takeaway is back in town!
With projects and exhibition design further developed there are some exciting changes and new ideas simmering at the RIBA.
When my fellow colleagues and I walked into the private view of Venice Takeaway, it could only be described as surreal but nice as if greeting an old friend we had grown so familiar with in the magical watery land of Venice last year. Having spent so much time with the show I feel a slight melancholy pang to see that it is not the very same as I remember it. However the changes are wonderful and I can’t stay sad for long as flux is inevitable especially where architecture is concerned. Nevertheless one thing has certainly not changed and that is my undying love for the Paper Architects and Alexander Brodsky.
The foundation of Brodsky’s work is strangely not built objects but imaginary projects, artworks and installations. A classically trained architect Brodsky didn’t design his first building until two decades after he graduated. He was a key member of the Paper Architects which was a group of recent architecture graduates who decided to rebel against the restrictions put in place by soviet Russia and began to enter ideas into forbidden competitions.In this way Brodsky could find freedom in his imagination and escape from standardized communist constructions through his wild and whimsical etchings depicting ideas about constructivism and postmoderism. It is easy to see that Piranesi’s drawings of ruins have influenced Brodsky and he often favours similar shapes such as rotundas and porticoes. He worked closely with Ilya Utkin to imagine these distorted landscapes and Paper Architects rose to fame in the West after winning many prestigious awards. Brodsky’s style is deliciously ephemeral and his structures are often build from fragile or fleeting materials.
For example in 2003 Brodsky designed a pavilion on the Klyazma Reservoir which was to be constructed from ice cubes held by to a wooden structure and metal frame. When the building was lit it glowed softly and in the Spring the ice cubes melted and became part of the lake. In architecture, says Alexander Brodsky, “you want on the one hand to build something that lasts for ever. But then you can have the problem of building something that disturbs you for the rest of your life. It’s not good enough, but it stays.”
Is it not refreshing to hear that even Architects make mistakes and constantly question the importance of longevity? Even now Brodsky maintains a relatively small practice mainly designing private houses and interiors. In the past he has used materials such as old window frames, plastic bags and glass to create intriguing and unusual objects.
In 1996 Brodsky created an installation in Canal Street Subway station in New York, at the request of the Public Art Fund, by filling the space with 5000 gallons of water complete with life size gondolas and cut out passengers in effect creating a temporary Venetian lagoon. Then 3 years later he constructed a 16 meter high skeleton house filled with powdered fragments of the city. Other works include Coma, which commented on the dangers of opulence and consisted of a model city drowning in crude oil. He also produced some work for the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2006 that pointed to the inevitable moment Venice sinks into the sea. He admits to struggling with the cross over from art to architecture, describing the feeling of a burden that took a mental and physical toll on him. You can sense this underlying wariness in his early works. For example 95 Degrees, a restaurant in Moscow where Brodsky meticulously planned every material and element of the building down to the slightly awkward wooden stilts that hold the building up, which are angled at 95 degrees.
As a fellow artist, I find myself sympathizing with his wariness however, as it is a daunting and difficult task to bring something wildly imaginative and free to life, to be represented as something real and solid. Brodsky achieves this wonderfully of course and I bask in awe at his exquisite etching, a Glass Tower imaging myself stepping out of the RIBA into his drawing and walking along the curved path into the monochrome city.
Written by Isabel Moseley, a talented artist and writer.