Review: Exchange. Patrick Lynch and Camilo Rebelo
A review of Exchange, a talk by Patrick Lynch and Camilo Rebelo in the Forum, 10 March 2010
While London’s Gunners were beating the Portistas to a five-nil defeat up the road at Ashburton Grove, a rather more sedate and thankfully more reciprocal meeting between the two cities was being played out at Spring House. As part of Celebration Week, ASD tutor Patrick Lynch and FAUP tutor Camilo Rebelo took part in an event organized by MA&DE and moderated by MA&DE organiser and ASD Research Student Paulo Moreira. Presenting a selection of their own projects they were continuing a conversation that had started last month in Porto, where Patrick had taken his Diploma students for a study trip and where Paulo, a FAUP alumnus, had introduced the two architects.
Paulo asked Patrick why he regularly took his students to Porto. The reply was an unequivocal description of Alvaro Siza as ‘the best architect working today’ and a recommendation for anyone who hasn’t already done so to take some time out and visit the city.
Siza wrote a good book on the work of the Italian architect Francesco Venezia and some images of Venezia’s Museum in Gibellina were included at the beginning of the presentations. The book contains an essay, entitled ‘The Caring Transformation’, which closes with the following:
Ultimately, emerging from the root of things, all Architecture comes together in the centre of the Earth.
This vision, of the earthy roots of Architecture, seems to capture a sense of the similarities between the work of the two architects talking at Spring House. Several of their projects seemed to emerge directly from the topographical qualities of their sites.
The dense geological and archeological strata of the Côa Valley, the region in which Rebelo’s Museum of Art and Archaeology sits, were a major constituent in that project’s generative code. Though partially merged with it, the museums’s powerfully angular form contrasted with the landscape; it formed a plateau, or field, held up under the sky at the top of a mountain – a primal act of settlement. Like an enormous flint tool left behind by giants. Beneath the weight of it, in the angle of shade below the body of the museum, Rebelo had placed the ‘equipment’; technical kit that needed the cool and also the cafe and restaurant, where people burrowed ‘like rats or snakes’, out of the reach of the summer sun. Glass walls dissolved leaving only the silhouette of the museum’s bulk above and the paleolithic field spread out below.
Similar fragments of shade crept across the lawn of Marsh View where Lynch Architects were asked by new owners to revisit an earlier project by the practice – the extension of a bungalow to accommodate the holiday home of an artist. This house sits in the flat expanses of the Norfolk coastline. The project’s first phase extended the bungalow with black timber volumes sitting on the upturned edges of new concrete floors – the local vernacular and the nearby mudflats replayed. This elaborated plan activated the garden, making an ensemble of interior and exterior rooms. A new hearth and chimney, an uncanny figure on the edge of the marsh, situated the house more fully in the landscape, pinning it to the map. The addition of a skeletal steel carport now acts as a gateway to this landscape of house and garden and a new studio building reflects visions of the house back at itself – a much needed intensification, now that the line of trees that bordered the marsh at the edge of the property has been felled.
There were many more projects presented that evening and I think they all at least hinted at further iterations of this ‘topographical’ thinking. The exchange between the two architects, the comparisons made between their work, helped to shed some light on the intimate relationship between topography, notions of place and Architecture’s role in fostering and supporting modes of life.
On Thursday Celebration Week continued with the diploma unit presentations and the invigorating Grafton Architects lecture echoing these themes. Historical precedents, as well contemporary projects, also exhibited these characteristics; a diploma student from Patrick’s Unit described the experience of visiting the Soane’s Museum as placing us “no longer in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but in some future ancient London”. This sense of ancient futurism seems to be a wonderful way to describe the uncanny qualities of architecture and the way in which good projects stimulate some sense of time-travel, some weird sense of unprecedented events having happened before.
David Leatherbarrow’s the man for this:
Topography gives to landscapes and buildings a kind of sense that differs from that conferred upon them through the intentions, controls, and expectations of design and construction, a kind of sense like that of an event: engaging, intrinsic, and more often than not startling.
 David Leatherbarrow, Topographical Stories: Studies in Landscape and Architecture, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004