On Thursday October 07 I had the opportunity to witness a presentation of an architect’s work that reaffirmed the notion that spatial organization is ultimately a forte of architectural inquiry, more than it had been considered heretofore.
Andrew Zago imparted a succinct and thought-provoking lecture of his most exemplary work to a small crowd in the auditorium of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, in La Jolla. Zago’s work contrives an oceanic atmosphere of the deep, a concept of dense space and effects. As Bahram Shirdell once said “Architecture is not about depth, it’s about the deep”, asserting that architecture is a problem of space within critical practices in a time when contemporary issues focus on surface geometries, program organizations and other intricate forms. The influence of Shirdell and Kipnis is apparent in the conceptual oeuvre of Zago, an influence that I share from my AA days in the mid 90’s. Zago explores process and its materialization through diagrams that construct spatial effects. This is evident in his project for The Greening of Detroit Pavilion, where the operative diagrams take on a vaporous effect due to the translucency of the tubes, creating a blurred field that generates a spatial distortion within solid and void relationship.
Yet, the most intriguing project was the design and construction of a Presbyterian chapel, a unique solution resulting in subsiding of representational objects through spatial techniques. Viewing the frontal façade gave a sensation that a cross appeared by the effects of louvers and interior light. As Zago walk through the project a massive three dimensional cross suspend in space, in the manner of the Buddha in the Sokkuram Cave Temple of South Korea, became evident. A large crux immissa [t] with its transom protruding from the lateral facades of the building entrance hovers as you walk into the space. The interstitial space created by the cross creates a box in box effect however it can not be observed in its entirety due to the size in relationship to the interior space causing the perceiver to reformulate the relationship between void and mass. A misconstrued relationship of ecclesiastical space, a narthex deprived of Christian cosmology, alluding once again to Shirdell’s reference of the floating Buddha in Nara - objects hovering in vastness.
Zago’s idea of critical practice constructs a disparity within theoretical issues. While event space and other intricacies of contemporary discourse are the “flavor of the month” Zago’s practice, as far as I am concerned, re-postulates spatial architectonics as the precept of critical praxis.
Finally in the short (two question) and non confronting finale, an audience member questioned Zago’s pedagogic techniques by stating that as his student he inhibited the feeling that architecture is an enjoyable endeavor - it had become too serious. Only in San Diego would they question rigorous and critical practice. It seems that architects from this city are more interested with pragmatics and the latest issues of sustainability as discourse. In a city full of schindler-esque, barcelon-esque, and other spurious architectures, concepts are degraded to a buffoonish parti in the corner of a presentation board and practice is synonymous with service. To be critical requires commitment and rigor and it is beyond a 9 to 5 task, because as Shirdell once said “Architecture is hard, it’s very hard”.