The Architectural Element

The Circle of Fragments

‘Architecture is a profession trained to put things together, not to take them apart.’ We explore architecture focusing on the scale of the fragment, starting with a very limited vocabulary. We have crushes on buildings, noticing the systematic seduction of some elements. We struggle to avoid obvious repetitions and remove things that are essentially uninteresting, arriving at a collection of ambiguous figures and impossible objects. These elements are what we study, multiply, magnify, and then perform actions through overlapping and juxtaposition of a variety of pieces.

So maybe columns, walls, windows, doors and slabs are our most precious tools, our language, the vocabulary we operate. These are very basic elements that we have at our disposal, the instruments we choose to use. Elements that we put in order or slight disorder. Elements that we invent or steal from other buildings. It’s about appropriating them, distorting, multiplying and putting them together. Utilising them using different kinds of logic. Then the building can almost be seen as an accumulation of fragments, as a collage of these elements, that are gathered from the history of architecture. But it’s never an awkward assemblage of pieces, in the end it’s a whole, a unity.

Studying the relationship between the single element and the whole, we inevitably refer to the concept of composition. We believe in architecture that is established by different forms of continuities, that comes from testing these ‘successions’ of fragments. The act of adding elements or parts demands a constant process of decision-making: composing, assembling, putting together separate entities, repeating them, letting them complete or crush each other in a certain manner. Then every project is a search for inner coherence as a result of strange assembly of simple figures or entities forming delicate equilibriums or almost primitive superimpositions. The building is becoming a vehicle for conveying emotion through abstract compositional operations.

We have a fascination for Toyo Ito, Kazuo Shinohara, Alvaro Siza, Robert Venturi, Rudolf Olgiati, Peter Markli, trying to find links between these inherited concepts. It’s a constant research on fragmentation as a recurrent device in their projects that have many themes and features in common. They play with complex geometries creating a bizarre sense of displacement and fragmentation, creating a less obvious kind of order. Their buildings are not without awkward and disturbing features, but these mannerisms are always embedded in the tectonic and structural ambiguities of the actual construction.

It’s about how we learn from them, how we ‘read’ and ‘translate’ their architecture, about disposition and deformation of the element, how different kinds of order are introduced, how they betray this order sometimes in their buildings. All these buildings simply contain qualities we would like to study in our future work, buildings with a hint of nervous discontinuity. It’s probably our fascination with the legacy of Postmodernism.

Peter Markli claims that ‘the basic elements of architecture are few in number’, ‘that they rely on a small number of geometric figures, but their variations are endless.’ He talks about architecture as a semantic system with its own vocabulary and grammar ‘First, one had to learn the letters; next to string them together as words; and then came the day when one could form whole sentences, and see the sense of them’. Then some years ago, Alvaro Siza suggested that ‘architects invent nothing, they work continually with models they transform in response to the problems they encounter’. And that ‘when we search the space which must surround man, we start from isolated fragments.’

We want to make an index of these little pieces, the assemblage of references. Figures, creatures and characters. It’s a celebration of the fragment. We propose learning architecture as a form of collecting, as in quotations and excerpts. ‘And then comes the ability to compose the most complex spaces with seemingly simple elements and gestures. Lines and materials, stairs and railings, walls and columns, perimeters and windows are activated in a complex composition.’

This work is built around the idea of the taxonomy – the classification. We are fascinated by the idea of series, sequences and catalogues. It has provided us with decisive points of departure for this work. All these efforts resulted in a close, self-referential context. Then we use our projects as a device to study the space itself, space as a field of forces ordered by the inclusion of diverse elements, erudite or contextual, functional or fictional. We see space as the protagonist of architecture.

Composition can be exercised in many different ways, through the manipulation and the inversion of solid and void, volume and surface, interior and exterior. Architecture in this sense is becoming a conjunction of quotidian experience, a delicate balance between surprising juxtapositions and a traceable formal logic. We are interested in architecture that is established by different forms of orders, disorders, continuities and discontinuities. ‘Form and composition might be the only tools at our disposal to create difference, to make hierarchies, and to re-introduce the cultural narrative.’