33 Competitions, 6 Projects

From 19 October to 20 November 2016 at Gallery of Contemporary Art and Architecture – House of Arts of the city of České Budějovice in
Curated by Michal Škoda.

Photos by Jan Mahr

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."
Caruso st John