Initial thoughts on “The man-made environment” theme

December 2015

I have decided on architecture as the theme for Assignment 2, stage 1 (topic the “man-made environment”). In particular, I wanted to focus on the work of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. His bold and flamboyant designs are in the movement of “International Style” (1) and combine neat rectilinear forms with lack of ornamentation. His  buildings often use bold colours. His style extends to open, light-filled interiors which are also a fascinating source of inspiration. Norwich University of the Arts library have many books on his work from which I have selected a ‘scrapbook’ of inspirational images. The only concern I have regarding Niemeyer’s buildings is that I will have to work entirely from photographs because I am unable to visit and sketch his architecture. I considered How I could extend my theme.

When searching for Christmas gifts on the National Trust website, I came across a book with a very engaging front cover. The book was “Brutal Utopias – A National trust guidebook” (2). The image provoked a strong and immediate response. Nasturtiums we’re growing in a way reminiscent of that in which wild flowers would grow on a natural cliff; clinging with little light or soil, peeping out from a hard, cold, grey edge. 

In the world of “Brutalist” architecture, the human is removed from the natural environment. The Park Hill development in Sheffield is a series of concrete “cliffs” winding high on the top of a hill. The idea was that residents would walk along “streets in the sky”. In doing so, however, they are isolated from their natural environment – from trees, grass, the scent of Autumn leaves…. It reminded me also of another Brutalist building which I visited – The University of East Anglia. I remember on an undergraduate open day walking along cold windswept concrete walkways – like the path of a river artificially channelled, my path was pre-defined. I could not leave the path and run across the grass, I could only move backwards or forwards. It was perhaps this inhospitable environment which contributed to my decision not to study at UEA. The conflict between human and concrete is a concept which I still find fascinating, and UEA provides a series of brutalist buildings which are geographically close enough for me to visit and sketch. 

So I have decided that my theme will be “the International Style of Oscar Niemeyer” and “Brutalism”. I am in the process of sketching my ideas and developing designs based on the images I have gathered. I am finding it much easier to draw visual responses to this topic than “cultural fusions” because I can better relate and attach meaning to these images.

 

References:

1. Dempsey, A. (2010) Styles, schools and movements. The essential encyclopaedic guide to modern art. New and expanded edition. Thames and Hudson. London

2. Watson, T. (2015) Brutal Utopias. The National Trust. Swindon.

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