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Lyons Sunshine Hospital 2001 Lyons Kenneth Myer Building 2011

A classic instance of this is their hospital for old people (Sunshine Hospital, Melbourne, 2001), where a polychrome wall of glazed bricks both references Monet’s haystacks and offers an image of patients staring out the windows for drivers on the nearby highway. Of course, this is a much remarked-upon break with the usual institutional grey of such facilities, but Lyons’ point is that this façade changes what is within or even more exactly introduces a split into what lies within. Now the hospital is not just a place to rest and recover but also a kind of holiday resort. Two other examples of this split between exterior form and interior function can be seen in their Nelson Campus Refurbishment (1998), which features a foyer formed by two irregularly nested spheres, and the IT Business Centre for the University of Ballarat (2004), in which an irregular central courtyard is formed by tracing the shadows cast by the sun at various times of the day. It is also to be seen in a series of buildings in which the supporting corners are apparently missing, as though something has bitten through them (School of Medicine, University of Tasmania, 2009; North Richmond Community Health Centre, Melbourne, 2012). But undoubtedly this logic reaches its high point in a number of buildings Lyons has done for university medical and biotech research centres (School of Medicine, University of Western Sydney, 2008; Kenneth Myer Building, University of Melbourne, 2011). Precisely their point is that at the deepest level of life there is no match between the visual appearance of DNA and what forms it will produce. Instead, they want to capture the essential epigenesist of life, in which different outcomes can arises from the same original set of conditions. This is why so many of their buildings are conceived – like FAT’s – as ‘cross-sections’ (Lyons 2012, 377), in which what we see is only a sample of the available information that could be presented another way. As Lyons write in their brief for the job: ‘The precast “skull bones” that contain the research space are conceived of as part anamorphic and part architectural… Throughout the interior optical illusions draw one back to the strange workings of the brain. Can I believe what I see?’(Lyons 2012, 379). Here architectural form is understood as its own difference from itself. In their Kenneth Myer Building, for example, there is an implicit relationship between how the different elements of the building connect with each other and the neuronal connections that take place in the brain. If thought takes place across bridges in the brain, so the ‘ideas’ in their buildings are understood as occurring across the perceived differences between the various forms and materials that make it up. Here is the equivalence between architectural thinking and its materials that Lyons is searching for. It does not occur within its materials, but only between them, in a kind of endless parataxis or opening of things up to the outside. As architectural academic John Macarthur writes in the essay ‘Ugliness and Romanticism in the Work of Lyons’:
The practice speaks of ‘turning up the dial of metaphor’ towards literalism, punning and visual illusion, but at the same time this preference for ‘reading’ over ‘experiencing’ a building means turning down the dial of experience or rather the significance of experience. This is itself an aesthetic of a certain kind of experience, where one’s phenomenal encounter seems incidental to the building’s other concerns. What interests me most in the work of Lyons is this sense that the building knows and possesses itself independently of an observer. We often fantasise that buildings are actualised by the experience of the beholder, whereas they are objects indifferent to us (Lyons 2012, 270).

Danilowicz N. 2007, ‘The Occidental Death of Jason Rhoades’, ArtUS 18, 34-44

Flood R. 2007, Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century, Phaidon, London

Haithman, D. 2006, ‘He left behind one last puzzle’, LA Times, August 18 (http://articles.latimes.com/2006/aug/18/entertainment/et-rhoades18)

Jameson, F. 1984, ‘Postmodernism: the cultural logic of late capitalism’, New Left Review, No. 146, 53-92

Jameson, F. 1991, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, Durham

Jencks, C. 1978, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (2nd edition), Academy Editions, London

Jencks, C. 1993, Heteropolis: Los Angeles, The Riots and the Strange Beauty of Hetero-Architecture, Academy Editions, London

Jencks, C and FAT 2011, ‘Special issue: Radical post-modernism’, Architectural Design, Vol. 81, No. 5

Lyons Architects 2012, More: The Architecture of Lyons1996-2011, Thames & Hudson, Fishermans Bend, Victoria

Olcayto, R. 2011, ‘FAT boyo slim’, The Architect’s Journal, 24 November, 24-32

Searle, A. 2005, ‘Sex gods’, The Guardian, 20 September (http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2005/sep/20/2)

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