Reforming Space by Jaclyn Alexander

Drifts and Derivations: Experiences, Journeys and Morphologies, an exhibition currently at the Reina Sofía in Madrid, documents Brazilian and Chilean architectural concepts that all espouse ideas concerning ties between public space and collective life.

Reforming space

Ciudad Abierta, Juegos y torneos, 1927–“77. From the archive of José Vial Armstrong, Escuela de Arquitectura y Diseño de la Pontificia. Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile.

Currently at the Reina Sofía in Madrid there is an exhibition entitled Drifts and Derivations: Experiences, Journeys and Morphologies. It documents Brazilian and Chilean architectural concepts that all espouse humanist ideas concerning ties between public space and collective life.

The exhibition is at the end of a long white hallway, in which an eerie, deep female voice echoes through a hanging speaker. She sings, “I feel long gone, I’ve been long gone, the people they come with garlands in their hands, but no-one understands why for so long I’ve been gone.” The hallway is reframed into a musical space.

The architects in this exhibition, including Roberto Matta, Flavio de Carvalho, and Alberto Cruz, all had ideas about architecture guided by nature and instincts rather than geometric, rigid patterns. The exhibition begins with a sign; “crossing: on this journey, the goal is not to travel from point A to point B. The road is not the road.” The physical space of the exhibition is set up in such a way to reflect these ideas; it is non-linear, full of meanderings that prolong it, so that people may even find themselves disoriented and walking in circles. The unfinished, disruptive, suspended, or betrayed sense of direction opens people up to question their surroundings and redefine the spaces around them. Exemplary of this is Flavio de Carvalho’s New Look, a man’s suit comprised of a striped shirt and miniskirt, which is suspended from the ceiling gliding by on a wire. There are randomly-placed architectural sketches set up on chalk-covered black panels that people have to walk around and several doorways in one room that can lead to any number of rooms; people constantly have the choice to look up, down, to the left, or the right in one moment. The show is inspiring, stirring in one a sense of possibility for the present and the future, and not merely a capturing of the past.

The exhibition presents installations, drawings, magazine clippings, video footage, diagrams, and photo projections. The architects saw the initial architectural point as a poetic act, an open learning process involving improvisation with the goal of triggering action. The exhibition catalogues videos of architects marching on a beach in sheets and strange hats, which at the time was meant to challenge people to question how the natural space of a beach was used. Likewise, when Carvalho first wore New Look in 1959, he marched to challenge people to question gender norms. Dotting the walls are Matta’s La Liga de las Religiones drawings, which propose a space for all religions based physically on the human body. With similar Utopian visions, the exhibition exemplifies work from the Valparaíso School for Architecture in Chile, which aims to blend architecture, poetry, and life. In 1971 the school created Ciudad Abierta, a recreational field for constructive experimentalism, striving to shift learning spaces from classrooms to the streets. These architects demonstrate the human potential possible when norms are questioned and people dare to create new visions.

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