In 1990, Adam Caruso and Peter St John established a studio that has created a number of outstanding buildings. At first sight, you can talk about “common architecture“. The initial projects of the studio were distinguished by their considerable austerity, which was later replaced with sensitive inspiration by history, resisting any accurate dating. Another of their strong sources of inspiration is contemporary art, but they do not try to blur the boundary between visual arts and architecture. It is also necessary to emphasise how successfully they keep avoiding modernist and historicising clichés. They do not focus only on building something “new“, but also deal, to a large extent, with reconstructions and completing constructions. They say themselves – “You cannot operate outside of time – to make timeless architecture is impossible. So, the idea of making something new, and that sense of novelty being a quality in itself is an absurd proposition. Everything becomes part of the continuum of time – this is inescapable“. Caruso St John view architecture as part of a broader field of – both artistic and social –culture. An obvious feature is the emphasis on the material, questions of construction, details, light, as well as creating an appropriate atmosphere. Working with the context of the place, both with respect to the situation, and with respect to the possibility to change the existing atmosphere, is a matter-of-course. They have completed a number of realisations of constructions and competition projects, participated in exhibitions and publishing and pedagogical activities, and have been awarded various prestigious prizes. To name a few, the realisations of the New Art Gallery in Walsall (2000) and the Brick House in London (2006) earned them the nomination for the Stirling Prize – the most prestigious British prize for architects. Recently, they have been awarded prizes for modernising the Tate Britain (2014) – the Civic Trust Award, New London Architecture Conservation and Retrofit Award and RIBA Award. In 2016, the RIBA Award and the RIBA National Award for modernising the Newport Street Gallery and the Gagosian Gallery in London. Their first exhibition specially prepared for the House of Art of the City of České Budějovice, is related, by means of their last projects, especially to competitions in architecture (which has also become an increasingly topical and much discussed topic in this country).
33 Competitions, 6 Projects
“This exhibition shows only a selection of the competition entries that the practice has made over the last twenty-six years. We have always entered a lot of design competitions, in the early days perhaps one or two per year, more recently between five and ten, sometimes even more. The competition process is difficult, risky and frustrating, inevitably involving a high level of failure. The majority of entries are not awarded first prize and do not become buildings. These designs are rarely taken out of the drawer and they remain almost private whilst at the same time representing the real dreams of the architect. Taken together, the number of projects we have designed for competitions are sufficient to fill an imaginary city, with its museums, public spaces, housing quarters and business districts, as well as its stadiums and cemeteries. Exhibition is an opportunity to speculate on the status of the competition design in relation to the realised building, bringing these things closer together so that they become almost inseparable, as they are in the mind of the designer. A competition submission represents the first flush of an idea on its way to becoming a part of the real world. Competition designs have to be above all else, clear, in order to convince a jury of professionals, clients and politicians. And yet even with their emphasis on the conceptual, these designs hold within them the kernel of their material and emotional identity. Producing competition entries is in itself a complex and expensive enterprise, involving enormous effort by many people to realise something distilled and clear. Considerable thought goes into the appearance of a submission as well as its contents. A competition entry is willing the jury on with a proposal that seems inevitable. It is daring them to commit even though their commitment is almost never enough. In the first room of the exhibition, as a kind of introduction is a city-like tableau of five large models, a completed building, one whose design is currently being developed and three unsuccessful competition designs. Stripped of their different contexts and away from place and politics, they are closer to autonomous architecture thought. Their simple, almost monumental shapes of extrusions, distortions and additions are neither obviously sculptural, nor neutral representations, but somewhere between the two. Their restless uncertain balance implies relationships, to the main event and to the background, to the endlessly fascinating imperfect world of real things.
In this exhibition we are showing A2 books of the original panels that were submitted for a selection of competition entries from across the span of the practice. These are juxtaposed with large colour prints of photographs by Hélène Binet showing buildings that we have recently completed in London, Zurich, St Gallen, Bremen and Lille. These details of construction are a microcosm of ideas about architecture that are already present in the competition submissions lying latent in the perspective renderings and model photographs, waiting and hoping to become physical“ (CStJ)